The inaugural flight of China’s new Long March 7 rocket next month will be the first launch from the nation’s newest spaceport.
Long March 7 will carry a prototype re-entry capsule for China’s next-generation human spacecraft when it lifts off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on June 26.
Located on Hainan Island, Wenchang is China’s first orbital launch site located on the coastline. The Jiuquan, Taiyuan and Xichang launch facilities are all situated inland.
Wenchang will be the primary launch site for Long March 7 and Long March 5 rockets. Wenchang is located 19 degrees above the equator, which will make it easier for China to launch satellites into equatorial orbit.
Long March 5, which will be capable of lifting 25 metric tons (55,116 lbs) to low Earth orbit, is scheduled to make its inaugural flight in September. Long March 7 is a medium-lift booster capable of lifting 13.5 metric tons (29,762 lbs) to low Earth orbit.
Because the new Long March 5 and Long March 7 rockets are too large to travel by rail, the launch vehicles travel to Wenchang by ship.
The spaceport, which will have three launch pads, was officially approved in September 2007.
Next month’s Long March 7 mission will carry a conical spacecraft prototype that is similar to the American Orion and Apollo capsules. It is part of a program designed to field a next-generation spacecraft capable of carrying between two and six crew members.
The baseline spacecraft would weigh 14 tons, with a 20 metric ton version featuring a longer service module. The vehicles would be used to support near-Earth, asteroid, lunar and Mars missions.
The new spacecraft would be launched aboard Long March 5 and Long March 7 rockets due to their increased weights.
China is currently flying Shenzhou spacecraft that are similar in appearance and size to the Russian Soyuz transport. The Shenzhou is capable of carrying three crew members.