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.

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Long March 7 Makes Successful Inaugural Flight

Model of Long March 7 booster
Model of Long March 7 booster

China debuted the new medium-lift Long March 7 launch vehicle on Saturday from its new Wenchang Space Launch Center. It was the first launch from the new coastal spaceport.

The new booster carried a scaled-down version of a next-generation space vehicle designed to carry Chinese astronauts into Earth orbit and deep space. The spacecraft is set to land autonomously in Inner Mongolia after orbiting the Earth.

The two-stage Long March 7 is capable of launching 13,500 kg (29,800 lb) in low Earth orbit and 5,500 kg (12,100 lb) into sun synchronous orbit. The stages are powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene, which are cleaner than the hypergolic fuels that power older Long March boosters.

The new rocket is designed to 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 cosmonauts into space aboard Shenzhou spacecraft. The new booster shares engines with the Long March 5 and Long March 6 rockets.

Long March 7 photo by Pline – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=41264717

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.

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