China Aims for Reusable Rocket Test in 2021

Falcon 9 first stage comes in for a landing after launching the Zuma payload. (Credit: SpaceX)

This whole reusable booster thing seems to be catching on.

China aims to recover the first stage of the Long March-8 carrier rocket, which is still under development and is expected to make its maiden flight around 2021, according to a Chinese rocket expert.

It was part of China’s endeavors to develop reusable space vehicles, Long Lehao, chief designer of carrier rockets at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told a space conference in Harbin, capital of northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province.

The Long March-8 rocket will have two stages and two boosters: the first stage and boosters are expected to be retrieved through vertical landing, said Long, who is also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

If successful, the new rocket would provide commercial launch services to customers around the globe, Long said.

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  • Goosegoose

    Of course the Chinese want to do this, and they’ll figure it out by stealing the guidance systems of New Shepard and/or Dragon. The Chinese won’t struggle at all on figuring it out.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Those strap on boosters will go a long way to making the booster heavy and ready for flights early. Well that answers my question about how long it wold take the Chinese to respond to their losing all that launch work they had. Their approach looks sane. Hopefully this works out about as well as the ARJ-21 and sticks to schedule like the C-919.

  • Vladislaw

    or assign 20 million programmers to figure it out…

  • Smokey_the_Bear

    Or 20 million hackers to “figure it out”.

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    First Pied Piper, now SpaceX? Geez.

  • ThomasLMatula

    One group the will be happy are the poor villagers they have been dropping the used boosters on all these years. Finally, they will stop poisoning their land with toxic rocket fuel.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    The fuel breaks down in a short period of time and has no lasting impact on the environment. But the Chinese people on the other hand are as expendable as those boosters…

  • Michael Halpern

    They will go a long way to adding complexity, one of FH’s more challenging aspects..

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Yes, but it allows them add parts and mass to the system and not take them away. I doubt this will become a system meant for operations. It’s probably a testbed. They’ll probably develop the engines, landing software and hardware with this, then do a Falcon clone with Falcon like mass ratios and Falcon like engines.

  • Michael Halpern

    All of the first stages on their newer rockets have Kerolox cores

  • Jeff2Space

    China already produces tons of “quad copters”. They’ve already got a start on some of the guidance systems based on that. They’ve also got a lot of engineers and programmers. I’m sure they’ll get it done, especially if they start with some smaller scale vertical landers.

  • Michael Halpern

    Problem is their engine of choice. It’s a larger engine, that they will have to modify for deep throttling.

  • Michael Halpern

    Another thing to consider is controlling rocket engines and steering grid fins, is not like controlling a quadcopter, rocket engines do not respond as near instantaneously as electric motors, closest you’ll get is with electric pump driven engines, and the kind of steering each grid fin does on f9 I believe is 3 axis of movement though I know it’s at least 2, most fins only rotate on a single axis, the advantage of this is maintaining control and stability over a wider range of angles of attack. I believe they will do it eventually, after they finish their Moon rocket but this is looking like a half token effort

  • Jeff2Space

    True, it’s not the same, but they have the skill set to make it work. They already know how to control rocket engines (because their current launch vehicles do that on ascent). They already have aerospace engineers, control systems experts, and computer programmers. You start small (like Masten Space Systems did) and develop the necessary control algorithms as you go. When you’ve nailed it with a small vehicle, you scale it up (like SpaceX did with the Grasshopper tests).

    Once everyone knows something is possible, because SpaceX proved it, it’s not going to be *that* hard to replicate.

  • Jeff2Space

    Or add smallish landing only engines that can throttle. Those smallish engines could also add additional thrust during takeoff. Since we’re talking about booster and first stage engines, ISP isn’t as important as thrust, so they don’t have to be terribly efficient (i.e. optimize for sea level operation with smallish nozzles).

  • Michael Halpern

    And all that extra mass will do wonders for the payload capacity

  • Michael Halpern

    Except they aren’t designing it with reuse considerations inherent in the design, they are taking an expendable rocket they had in development modifying the engine and adding grid fins and landing gear. The rockets out there (or in development) designed for reuse and the ones that have potential to become reusable are designed significantly differently from expendable rockets, most have many first stage engines, Firefly is using an areospike, but the big difference is that they optimize TWR and engine efficiency more than expendable rockets because every kg is more significant

  • Goosegoose

    But they won’t start small and ramp up. They’ll go full scale from the start and they will be successful from the beginning. Why? Because the Chinese don’t create anything of their own from scratch. They only steal and copy the work of others. That is their corporate culture, in spaceflight and everything else.

  • Michael Halpern

    They aren’t creating it from scratch, but it isn’t likely to be successful. They are taking LM8 an expendable with SRBs in development and adding landing legs and grid fins. They are also attempting to modify it’s core engine to deep throttle and restart. While technically not necessary, it is EXTREMELY helpful in an orbital VTVL booster to have several engines as rocket engines have a minimum power in which they will run smoothly. BE-3 is remarkable in being able to reach 18% but it’s also not the most powerful engine.

  • Robert G. Oler

    they will probably do it before SLS flies 🙂

  • Jeff2Space

    Yes they are starting from an expendable, but there is nothing fundamental about a liquid fueled rocket engine that makes it expendable. This is especially true if it’s a regeneratively cooled engine (engines with ablatively cooled components are admittedly harder to reuse).

  • Jeff2Space

    Depends on the overall design. The US is quite fond of strap on solid rocket boosters which have horrible ISP and extremely high dry mass to fully fueled ratios.

  • Michael Halpern

    It isn’t just the engine, it’s the number of engines. For VTVL there is an inherent advantage for having a larger number of engines in the first stage

  • Michael Halpern

    Yes but in a reusable rocket you need fuel to land with, they are intending to just modify the crud out of their existing rp-1 engine it sounds like, not making any whole new engines,

  • Michael Halpern

    Of course we are making a bold assumption, that China’s space program, run by their military is actually concerned with saving money. If they aren’t, this is just a way to control where their mostly spent rockets land.

  • Jeff2Space

    Aside from the obvious commercial advantage of low launch costs, the ability to launch a lot of “stuf”f into orbit in a relatively short amount of time might prove to be a military advantage.

    The U.S.S.R. certainly spent a lot of time and money building their own space shuttle to match the perceived military capabilities of the US space shuttle. I would not put it past China to do the same when it comes to reusable launch vehicles.

  • Michael Halpern

    Except as of yet turnaround on f9 isn’t that quick, that should change with block 5 but there is another use, guiding a near vertical traveling high speed projectile onto a target

  • Jeff2Space

    China most certainly has the ability to “guide a near vertical traveling high speed projectile onto a target”.

  • Michael Halpern

    True but more ways to do it with higher precision is something that is militarily attractive

  • duheagle

    Heh.

  • windbourne

    O2 is not an issue, but RP-1 will take a while to remove. After all, that is oil.

  • windbourne

    not sure wether to laugh or cry about that.

  • windbourne

    That is not true.
    Yes, they have a lot of spies in the west right now.
    BUT, to claim that they are not inventing is just plain out false.

  • windbourne

    the grid fins will bring it down close enough.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    I was referring to the hypergols.

  • publiusr

    I just wish they would do fly-back.

    Europe should kill l Ariane 6–and help fund Skylon.

    I want to see different people doing different things.

    Musk has the Heinlein thing down China–how about finishing this?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baikal_(rocket_booster)