The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) announced last week that it plans to launch a reusable space plane capable of taking off and landing on a runway around the year 2020.
Unlike traditional one-off spacecraft, the new spacecraft will fly into the sky like an aircraft, said Chen Hongbo, a researcher from the corporation. The spacecraft can transport people or payload into the orbit and return to Earth.
China will launch about 150 of its Long March carrier rockets over the next five years, one of its space chiefs said on Friday, days ahead of celebrations marking the launch of the country’s first satellite 46 years ago.
“In the 13th Five-Year Plan period [2016-2020], we will see about 30 launches [of the Long March series] each year,” Chen Xuechuan, assistant president of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, told Xinhua.
There were 86 Long March missions in the five years from 2011 to 2015, and 48 from 2006 to 2010….
The launch of the SJ-10 retrievable scientific research satellite earlier this month marked the 226th mission of the Long March rocket family, and the pace of launches is accelerating.
“Our first 100 Long March missions took us 37 years. But it only took us seven years to complete the latest 100,” Chen said.
Thirty launches annually would be higher than China is planning more than 20 launches this year, including:
Tiangong-2 space station in the fall
Shenzhou-11 with two astronauts for a 30-day mission aboard the space station
Inaugural flights of the Long March 5 heavy lift rocket and the Long March 7 medium lift booster
Video Caption: All ground tests were completed on China’s largest-ever space rocket, the Long March 5, on Monday. The fifth-generation rocket from the Long March family is scheduled for a launch next year.
It was a banner year for launches worldwide in 2014, with the total reaching a 20-year high as Russia and India debuted new launch vehicles, NASA tested its Orion crew spacecraft, China sent a capsule around the moon, and Japan launched a spacecraft to land on an asteroid.
There were a total of 92 orbital launches, the highest number since the 93 launches conducted in 1994. In addition, Russia and India conducted successful suborbital tests of new boosters.
With only two weeks left in the year, the global launch schedule is crammed with 9 launches, including the flights of new launch vehicles by Russia and India and an unprecedented effort by SpaceX to recover a first-stage for reuse.
Below are the highlights.
Dec. 18. GSLV Mk.3: India will conduct the first test flight of its new medium-lift GSLV Mk. 3 launch vehicle. This will be a suborbital launch that will carry a prototype of a human spacecraft. Satish Dhawan Space Centre
Dec. 19. SpaceX CRS-5: SpaceX will send a Dragon freighter on the company’s fifth commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station. The company will attempt to recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster for reuse by landing it on a barge. Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Dec. 25. Angara 5: Russia will conduct its first test of its new Angara 5 heavy-lift booster, which will send a dummy payload into orbit. The launch follows the suborbital flight of the smaller Angara 1.2, which tested the core stage for this new family of boosters. Plesetsk Cosmodrome
The table below shows flights scheduled for the rest of the year. Schedule subject to change without notice.
UPDATES: The GSLV launch was successful. Russia has delayed the Strela flight to Dec. 19, and SpaceX has rescheduled the Falcon 9 launch to no earlier than Jan. 6.
Space News reports on the recent failure of a Chinese launch vehicle:
China’s launch-services provider on March 3 said the December failure of a Long March 4B rocket was due to debris that blocked fuel intake of an upper-stage engine, resulting in the loss of the CBERS-3 Earth observation satellite owned jointly by China and Brazil.
In a statement, The China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) said the debris, which caused the premature shutdown of the second of two third-stage engines, likely came from “the launch vehicle pressurization feeding system or the assembly process of the third-stage engine.”
“Corrective actions including strengthening quality management and perfecting the foreign object debris-control techniques [during] assembly, integration and test” would be put into place immediately, CGWIC said, on both delivered vehicles and those under production.
Today’s successful launch of ESA’s Gaia spacecraft from French Guiana kicked off a busy global holiday flight schedule for the final days of 2013. Seven launches are on the schedule through New Year’s Eve, although it’s not clear whether all of them will be conducted.
UPDATE, 12/10/13: Space News is reporting the failure was caused by an unspecified malfunction in the rocket’s third stage. The vehicle’s builder, the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, is investigating.
The failure of a Long March 4B rocket has destroyed the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS-3).
“There was a malfunction of a launch vehicle during flight and hence satellite positioned in orbit has not been provided. Preliminary evaluations suggest that the CBERS-3 has returned to the planet,” according to a statement posted on the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) website.
UPDATE: SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch has been shifted to Tuesday evening.
China has kicked off a busy month with the successful launch of the Chang’e-8 lunar rover mission. There are 15 launches on the manifests of the world’s rocket companies in December. If all missions are completed and none are added, there will be 85 orbital launches for the year.
SpaceX is the next to go on Tuesday evening, with the company hoping its third attempt to launch the SES-8 communications satellite is a charm. The launch window opens at 5:41 p.m. EST, and SpaceX will webcast the attempt.
The company is hoping to get one more launch in by the end of 2013 on Dec. 20 with the Thaicom 6 satellite as the payload. Some other notable launches scheduled for December include:
Antares/Cygnus: Orbital Sciences first commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station (Dec. 17);
Soyuz 2-1v: The first flight of Russia’s “light” version of the venerable booster (Dec. 23);
GSLV/GSAT 14: India will make a re-flight of a cryogenic engine that failed to fire during its inaugural mission in April 2010 (TBD);
Long March 4B/CBERS 3: China will launch a Earth resources satellite jointly developed with Brazil (Dec. 10);
Atlas V/Delta IV: These two ULA military launches will bring the company’s total to 12 for the year (Dec. 5 & 12);
SCHEDULED LAUNCHES FOR DECEMBER 2013
AIST & Calibration Spheres
Long March 3B
Long March 4B
Long March 3B
Long March 4B
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A Chinese Long March-3B rocket lifted off from the Xichang Launch Center early Monday morning carrying a six-wheel lunar rover named Yutu (Jade Rabbit).
The Chang’e-3 lander is scheduled to touch down on China’s Sinus Iridum in mid-December, and Yutu will then begin a three-month exploration of the surface. The lander and the rover each possess a sophisticated suite of instruments.
Although no formal program has been approved, Chinese engineers are eying super heavy boosters designed to send taikonauts to the moon and beyond:
Chinese engineers are proposing a Moon rocket more powerful than the Saturn V of the Apollo missions and matching the payload of NASA’s planned Space Launch System (SLS) Block 2, the unfunded launcher that would put the U.S. back into super-heavy space lift.
Space Newsreports on pricing for the Long March, a family of boosters that has racked up an impressive series of launch successes:
The company selling Chinese Long March rockets on the commercial market said Sept. 24 that it is maintaining prices for telecommunications satellite missions at about $70 million, a price it says is backed by a 96 percent success record over 181 flights as of Sept. 23.
In a series of presentations here, officials from Chinese government agencies and China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC), the company that markets the Long March vehicle, said the Long March rocket has established itself with domestic and export demand despite the 15-year ban on U.S.-built satellite launches aboard Chinese rockets.
Until Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., arrived on the scene with advertised launch prices that bested even those of the Chinese, the Long March was considered the low-cost option among providers of rockets carrying satellites to geostationary transfer orbit, where most communications satellites are dropped off in orbit.
CGWIC officials point out that SpaceX has yet to prove its ability to maintain its prices — between $58 million and around $65 million for commercial customers — as it inaugurates its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket and ramps up production to meet the company’s large commercial backlog.