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Monday, February 27, 2017, 11:13

Rocket to haul commercial satellites

By ZHAO LEI

Rocket to haul commercial satellites
China's brand-new heavy-lift carrier rocket Long March-5 blasts off from Wenchang Space Launch center in South China's Hainan province, trailing a vast column of flame. (Photo/Xinhua)

China's biggest manufacturer of carrier rockets will soon begin to develop the next-generation Long March 8 medium-lift carrier rocket to meet the demands of commercial launch service, according to a senior manager.

Li Tongyu, head of carrier rocket development at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told China Daily that the Long March 8 will have a modular design and will use engines that have been used by the Long March 5 and Long March 7, both new rockets developed by the academy.

"Its core stage will be based on those used by the Long March 7 and Long March 3A, and it will have two solid-propelled boosters that are 2 meters in diameter," he said. "We will spend up to three years on its development and if everything goes well, its maiden flight will take place by the end of 2018."

Long March 8 will be capable of sending a payload of about 4.5 metric tons to a sun-synchronous orbit, or 2.5 tons to geosynchronous transfer orbit, he said. In a sun-synchronous orbit, a satellite circles the Earth at the same rate that the Earth orbits the sun, whereas with a geosynchronous orbit, the satellite matches the rotation of the Earth.

Li said use of the Long March 8 will extensively reduce the launch costs of low- and middle-orbit satellites, giving it bright prospects in the commercial launch market.

Researchers at the academy are currently developing the latest variant of the Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket. It will be tasked with placing the core module of the country's space station into orbit in 2018, he noted.

China plans to put a manned space station into service around 2022. It will consist of three parts — a core module attached to two space labs, each of which weigh about 20 tons. The facility is expected to be the world's only space station after the planned retirement of the International Space Station in 2024.

The first model in the country's heavy-lift rocket family, the 57-meter-tall Long March 5, made its maiden flight in November. It is China's mightiest carrier rocket and one of the world's most powerful launch vehicles currently in operation.

The second launch of the Long March 5 will be made in June to lift a large communications satellite into space. Before the end of 2017, China will conduct the rocket's third mission, sending the Chang'e 5 lunar probe to the moon, according to Li.

The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology also has opened preliminary research on a super-heavy rocket that will have a takeoff weight of 3,000 tons and can transport a 140-ton payload into low Earth orbit.

If research and development go well, the super-heavy rocket will carry out its first flight around 2030, allowing China to land astronauts on the moon, and to send and retrieve Mars probes, designers at the academy said.

Space business booms: Over 80 launches in next 3 years

China's rocket scientists should plan on being quite busy in the next three years.

More than 80 launch missions are set during that time, according to the research head of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the country's biggest rocket developer.

Users have confirmed schedules for 84 launch missions before 2020, and the academy plans to produce 100 Long March carrier rockets in the coming three years to meet the demand, Li Tongyu, director of carrier rocket development at the academy, told China Daily.

"Our Long March rockets have been recognized by domestic and foreign clients as being good and reliable. The academy's products have fulfilled 162 out of the nation's 245 spaceflights," he said.

Models of the academy's rockets, including the new Long March 5 and Long March 7, will be displayed at the 2017 Australian International Airshow and Aerospace and Defense Exposition in Geelong, Victoria, from Tuesday to Sunday.

"Our rockets are completely compatible with satellites developed by the United States and Europe. Our charges and insurance premiums are more competitive than those of others. Our upper stage, with engines that can be repeatedly started, allows clients to send multiple satellites into different orbits during a single mission, which means they can save a lot of money," Li said. "We want to use the air show to meet our potential clients to know what they need and to figure out solutions."

China has been a major player in the international commercial launch market since the 1990s, when it started to provide launch service to overseas clients.

China has fulfilled more than 50 commercial missions, carrying 60 satellites into space for overseas firms.

In China, a commercial space mission generally refers to a space activity financed by an entity other than a Chinese government or military agency.

Li said while the Long March 5 and Long March 7 have received many orders from Chinese authorities and will have a tight launch schedule, the academy also is seeking more business from the international market.

As China's new-generation heavy-lift rocket, the Long March 5 has a liftoff weight of 870 metric tons, a maximum payload capacity of 25 tons to low Earth orbit and 14 tons to geosynchronous transfer orbit, where the orbit matches the Earth's rotation. The Long March 7, with a liftoff weight of 597 tons, can send 13.5 tons into low Earth orbit and 5.5 tons into sun-synchronous orbit.

The academy founded ChinaRocket Co in October to tap the commercial launch market. The new company will put four types of rockets developed by the academy into the market, covering all orbits suitable for commercial space missions, its managers said.

Han Qingping, president of ChinaRocket, previously said his company will develop a reusable spacecraft to ferry travelers to around 100 kilometers above the Earth to experience weightlessness.

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