China on a Tear With New Launch Vehicles

Long March 5 on the launch pad. (Credit: China National Space Administration)
Long March 5 on the launch pad. (Credit: China National Space Administration)

With the successful maiden flight of its heavy-lift Long March 5 booster on Thursday, China has debuted four new launch vehicles in just under 14 months.

The list includes two new boosters — Long March 6 and Long March 11 — that are designed to serve the growing small-satellite launch market. The Long March 7 launcher is a medium-lift booster designed to replace several existing boosters.

The table below provides details on China’s four new launch vehicles.

New Chinese Launch Vehicles, 2015-16
LauncherDebut
Stages
HeightPayload LEO
Payload SSO
Payload GTO
Long March 119/25/154 (solid)20.8 m (68.2 ft)700 kg (1,543.2)350 kg (771.6 lb)
Long March 69/19/153 (liquid)29 m (95.1 ft)1,080 kg (2,381 lb)
Long March 76/25/162 (liquid)53.1 m (174.2 ft)13,500 kg (29,762)5,500 kg (12,125)
Long March 511/03/162 (liquid)62 meters (203.4 ft)25,000 kg (55,116 lb)14,000 kg (30,865 lb)

Long March 5 gives China a booster comparable to United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, which can lift payloads weighing 25,980 kg (57,276 lb) to low Earth orbit (LEO) and 14,220 kg (31,350 lb) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).

Long March 5 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 Long March 5 booster’s first and second stages are powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (LOX). Four booster rockets are fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen.

Long March 7 will replace the Long March 2 and Long March 3 boosters. The first stage is based on the Long March 2F rocket that is used to launch aboard Shenzhou spacecraft.

The three-stage Long March 6 serves the small-satellite market. The booster can deliver payloads weighing up to 1,080 kg (2,381 lb) in sun synchronous orbit (SSO).

Long March 5, Long March 6 and Long March 7 share the YF-100 engine, which is powered by RP1 and LOX. These fuels are cleaner than the hypergolic propellants that power older Long March boosters.

Long March 11 is a solid-fuel launch vehicle designed for rapid launch of micro satellites. It was developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology with the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.

China also is planning to introduce another launch vehicle, Naga-L, by the end of 2017. The booster will be capable of lofting payloads weighing up to 1,550 kg (3,417 lb) to LEO and 620-820 kg (1,367-1,808 lb) to SSO for $10 million.

Naga-L is set to become the first Chinese launch vehicle to operate outside of China. Its manufacturer, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) are examining launch sites in Indonesia, Tanzania, Sweden and China.

China is also studying the development of the Long March 9 booster, which would be capable of placing payloads weighing 130,000 kg (286,601 lb) into LEO. The booster’s first flight could occur around 2025 in preparation for a human lunar landing in 2029.

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  • An interesting factoid is that CALT is referring to this new generation of LVs as a modular family of rockets. This is pretty obvious if you see the dependencies between LM5/6/7, something though that gets lost in the translation is the fact that these launchers are designed to be a lot more modular than the versions that have already flied.

    China seems to be moving to a similar launch strategy as the dial-a-rocket modularity that ULA has with current boosters (and wants to streamline with Vulcan too). Different boosters, intermediate and upper stages can be mixed and matched to better suit the payload at hand, keeping the GLOW as efficient as possible. At least, that is the plan they have been communicating. Here is an example from the 2013 CMSEO proposals for CZ-7:

    https://i.imgur.com/CtdVQgR.png

    We don’t know if everything detailed there will be greenlighted for development, I think that they seriously considering this approach though.

    https://i.imgur.com/SzLpbNy.png

  • mlc449

    Earily similar to the Ariane 5. Obviously just a coincidence……….

  • publiusr

    The launch video was stunning. Can’t wait for CZ-9

  • passinglurker

    Actually it’s quite innovative. The hydrolox choose stage for example is self pressurized with no need for helium.

  • Snofru Chufu

    However, CZ-5 launcher’s stages dry mass are quite high, even for LX-LH2 stages. Such rocket, which uses LH2 for two stages should exhibit a payload mass fraction of 4% or better. SpaceX has now achieved this value, even without using high performance fuel as LH2 due to its extreme light dry stages. CZ-5 exhibits only a value of 3% (25 tons payload versus 830 tons launch mass).

  • passinglurker

    The technology is still a step towards an integrated boil off fluid system and long term cryogenic storage like what ula wants with ACES. When the other steps of this technology matures china could launch manned lunar missions similar to the “early lunar access” mission proposals of the 80’s using just the CZ-5

  • Larry J

    Appearances can be deceiving. The Ariane V has a LH/LOX core with two large solids (similar to the Shuttle, H-2, and Delta-IV). This Chinese booster uses four large kerosene/LOX strap-ons. Off hand, the only other booster I can recall using a somewhat similar arrangement is the Energia.

  • mlc449

    Oh absolutely. Just an observation. Much like how the Buran looked identical to the Shuttle but was fundamentally different under the hood so to speak.