Credit: New China TV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Long March-5 Y3 rocket that successfully flew December 27th was largely improved in many technical aspects compared with two previous flights.

Wu Yanhua, deputy director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA), declared the launch a success. The rocket’s flight lays the foundation for a series of future space projects for the country including exploring Mars, returning moon samples and constructing its own space station, Wu said.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

The Long March-5 is a large, two-stage rocket, capable of carrying a payload of 25 tons to low Earth orbit, 14 tons to geostationary transfer orbit, eight tons to Earth-Moon transfer orbit, or five tons to Earth-Mars transfer orbit.

Combined with an upper stage, the rocket is capable of sending probes to explore Jupiter and other planets in the solar system, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Flight record

China built the Wenchang Space Launch Center in south China’s Hainan Province — the country’s fourth space launch center for the Long March-5 and other new-generation carrier rockets. The center is located on the coast of the tropical island province of Hainan, which avoids possible ground damage caused by the falling rocket remnants.

The Long March-5 made its maiden flight on November 3, 2016 from Wenchang. However, the second large rocket, Long March-5 Y2, suffered a failure minutes after liftoff on July 2, 2017.

Engineers traced the failure to a problem in the engine of the first core stage of the rocket. “We have made improvements to the design, materials and technologies of the engine,” said Li Dong, chief designer of the Long March-5 rocket from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) under the CASC.

Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

Modified engine

According to a Xinhua news story, compared with the Long March-5 Y2, the new rocket has more than 200 technological improvements, said Yang Hujun, deputy chief designer of the rocket. The modified engine has undergone more than 10 ground tests lasting over 3,000 seconds in total.

Courtesy LaunchStuff/Inside Outer Space screengrab

“Over the past two years, the research team has solved the problem of the engine and improved the reliability of the rocket,” said Wang Jue, chief commander of the research team.


Major missions

Prototype of the Tianhe core module. China’s space station is expected to be operational around 2022.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

In a China Global Television Network (CGTN) report, Wu Yanhua also said that after the successful launch of this mission, there will be other major missions including China’s first Mars mission, the launch of the Chang’e-5 lunar mission, as well as launch the core segment of China’s space station at the end of next year or the beginning of 2021.

China’s next Moon exploration phase: Sample return from the Moon.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab/Inside Outer Space

Chang’e-5 is a sample return mission and is expected to bring lunar specimens back to Earth in 2020.

China’s first Mars mission is also a lander/rover mission. If all goes well, China plans to send its first Mars Lander and rover on a Long March-5 in 2020.

Long Lehao, chief designer, Long March carrier rocket series, China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology; academician, Chinese Academy of Engineering
Credit: CCTV/Inside Outer Space screengrab

China’s Mars mission elements.
Credit: CCTV/Screengrab Inside Outer Space

30-year development

“As far as I know, the Long March-5 carrier rocket is the only large rocket in the world that can enter into a high orbit with just two stages and a half,” said Long Lehao, chief designer of the Long March carrier rocket series from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology and also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

Credit: China Daily

Long said in a China Central Television (CCTV) interview that the research on the Long March-5 carrier rocket started 30 years ago. But its maiden flight came later than other new-generation rockets including the Long March-6 and Long March-7 rockets because more new technologies had been put into it and the difficulty in developing it increased.

New-generation rockets

“The Long March-5 carrier rocket drives the development of a series of new-generation eco-friendly carrier rockets, including the Long March-6, the Long March-7, the Long March-8, and the coming Long March-9, all belonging to this family. With the improvement of the rocket, it drives the development of related industries and also promotes the technology to a new height,” Long told CCTV.

“We have a complete series of new-generation carrier rockets. There will be more than 10 kinds of major carrier rockets in the future. We have a wide range of spacecraft. And our country is fully prepared in this aspect. All in all, if the current momentum continues, China’s goal to be a space power will be fulfilled as scheduled,” Long said.   







Go to this CCTV video of the launch:

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