China’s Satellite Launch Vehicle Surge

A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)
A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China’s Chang’e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)

China is in the midst of an overhaul of its satellite launch capabilities, with the introduction of five new launch vehicles in just over two years.

China will debut a new medium launch vehicle, the Long March 7, in June. Three months later, it will launch its largest rocket to date, the Long March 5, which will be capable of placing 25 metric tons into low Earth orbit.

Last September, the Long March 6 and Long March 11 debuted to serve the small satellite launch market. A third small launcher, Naga-L, is set to make its inaugurate flight by the end of 2017.

NEW CHINESE LAUNCH VEHICLE, 2015-2017
LAUNCH VEHICLELEO (kg/lbs)
GTO (kg/lbs)
SSO
(kg/lbs)
ESTIMATED PRICE PER LAUNCHFIRST LAUNCH
Long March 11700 (1,543)N/A350 (772)UndisclosedSeptember 2015
Long March 61,500 (3,307)N/A1,080 (2,381)UndisclosedSeptember 2015
Naga-L1,550 (3,417)N/A620-820 (1,367-1,808)$10 MillionLate 2017
Long March 713,500 (29,762)N/A5,500 (12,125)Undisclosed June 2016
Long March 525,000 (55,116)14,000 (30,865)N/AUndisclosedSeptember 2016

Long March 7 is based on the successful Long March 2F booster, which is used to launch Shenzhou crewed spacecraft. It is considered a cleaner booster because it uses liquid oxygen and kerosene instead of the hazardous dinitrogen tetroxide (nitrogen tetroxide) and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine used in the existing line of Long March boosters.

The new booster shares engines with the Long March 5 and Long March 6 boosters. Long March 7 will replace the Long March 2 rocket family and eventually the Long March 3 boosters.

Long March 5 will give China a launch vehicle similar to the American Delta IV Heavy. It will be used to launch modules for China’s permanent space station, which is set to begin construction around 2018. Next year, Long March 5 is scheduled to launch the Chang’e 5 mission, which is designed to return soil samples from the surface of the moon.

The Naga-L, which is set to be the first Chinese launch vehicle to operate outside of China, is focused on serving the commercial small satellite market. Officials at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) are examining launch sites in Indonesia, Tanzania, Sweden and China.

The table below shows present and future Chinese launch vehicles.

PRESENT & FUTURE CHINESE LAUNCH VEHICLES
LAUNCH VEHICLELEO (kg/lbs)
GTO (kg/lbs)
SSO
(kg/lbs)
ESTIMATED PRICE PER LAUNCH
Kuaizhou300 (661)N/AN/AUndisclosed
Long March 11700 (1,543)N/A350 (772)Undisclosed
Long March 61,500 (3,307)N/A1,080 (2,381)Undisclosed
Naga-L1,550 (3,417)N/A620-820 (1,367-1,808)$10M
Long March 2D3,500 (7,716)N/A1,300 (2,866)$30M
Long March 4B4,200 (9,259)1,500 (3,307)2,800 (6,173)$30M
Long March 4C4,200 (9,259)1,500 (3,307)2,800 (6,173)$30M
 Long March 2F8,400 (18,519) N/AN/A N/A
Long March 3A8,500 (18,739)2,600 (5,732) N/A$70M
Long March 3CN/A3,800 (8,378)N/A$70M
 Long March 3B/E12,000 (26,456)5,500 (12,125)5,700 (12,566)$70M
Long March 713,500 (29,762)N/A5,500 (12,125)Undisclosed
 Long March 525,000 (55,116)14,000 (30,865) N/AUndisclosed
Long March 9130,000 (286,601)UnknownN/AUnknown