China’s state-of-the-art carrier rocket sends satellite to orbit

By Deng Xiaoci Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/27 21:51:22

China's heavy-lift launch vehicle Long March-5 returned to flight after a break of more than two years, as it successfully sent a high-throughput communication satellite Shijian-20 into planned orbit on Friday, marking a huge comeback for the currently strongest member of the country's carrier rocket family.

The 20-story tall rocket [about 57 meters in height], codenamed Long March-5 Y3 for the mission, took off from Wenchang Space Launch Center in South China's Hainan Province on Friday around 8:45 pm, and after a flight of approximately 30 minutes, the rocket successfully placed the Shijian-20 satellite, whose weight at launch was over 8,000 kilograms, into the planned geosynchronous orbit (GEO).

The satellite is by far the country's heaviest GEO satellite, whose full wingspan of solar panels exceeds 40 meters, some 10 meters longer than those of a Boeing 737 airplane. 

Shijian-20 is an experiment satellite designed to test the country's new-generation large GEO satellite platform, the Dongfanghong-5, or DFH-5, Pang Zhihao, a Beijing-based expert in space exploration, told the Global Times on Friday. 

A number of high-throughput satellites with message capability of up to more than 1 terabyte per second (Tbps) will be developed based on the platform and to provide communication and internet services to countries and regions along the Belt and Road Initiative in around 2022, according to satellite developer China Academy of Space Technology, under the biggest Chinese state-backed aerospace contractor China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp (CASC).

Carrier rocket Long March-5 Y3

Super 2020

The Friday launch mission also marked the third flight of Long March-5, which took place more than two years after a July 2017 launch failure on the rocket's second test flight due to an engine problem, according to its developer, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), also under CASC.

The successful flight of Long March-5 has given impetus to China's ambitious heavy payload space projects for a "Super 2020," during which the country plans to perform missions including the Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission and the country's first Mars probe mission, according to the developer, as well as the construction of the country's future space station.

"It shows that Long March-5 rockets have accelerated its development toward the engineering application stage," said Wang Xiaojun, director of the CALT.

"By 2020, we plan to launch the Long March-5B for the first time, for the Chang'e-5 lunar sample return mission and a Mars probe," he revealed. 

Wang Jue, chief commander of the Long March-5, said that to accomplish the Chang'e-5 mission, which includes sending the probe weighing more than eight tons into the Earth-Moon transfer orbit, the carrier rocket must have large payload capabilities. 

According to the CALT boss, work on the Long March-5 rocket families for the later missions is going smoothly.

Li Dong, chief designer of the Long March-5, told the Global Times that there are two configurations of the heavy-lift carrier rocket. Long March-5B, a smaller variant of the rocket with a maximum payload capability of around 25 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO), will provide strong support for the construction of China's planned manned space station.

Another configuration of the rocket will be capable of sending payloads of up to 14 tons to the geosynchronous orbit and will serve missions such as lunar sample returns and deep space exploration, Li said.

Li hailed the development of the Long March-5, as it will greatly enhance the country's space capability. According to the plan, a Chinese mission will make a soft landing on Mars by 2021. 

China's Long March-5 Y3 carrier rocket ascends from Wenchang Space Launch Center in South China's Hainan Province on Friday. Photo: Lei Sheng/People's Daily

Big ticket to space powerhouse club

It is safe to say that the Long March-5, with a core diameter of five meters, which is almost double China's previous payload lifting capabilities, is a big ticket giving China entry into the world space powerhouse club, Wang Ya'nan, chief editor of Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Global Times on Friday. 

The "big ticket" will not only provide direct support for imminent deep space exploration programs such as the Chang'e-5 lunar probe and the country's first ever Mars probe, but will also test the reliability and maintenance capability of the country's heavy-lift engines including liquid oxygen kerosene engine and liquid hydrogen oxygen engine, paving the way for the next generation of super heavy-lift launch vehicles such as the Long March-9, Wang noted. 

China's heavy-lift carrier rocket, the Long March-9, is expected to make its maiden flight around 2030 and will support manned lunar exploration, deep space exploration and construction of a space-based solar power plant, the Xinhua News Agency reported in March quoting the CALT.

The diameter of the body of the Long March-9 rocket will be nearly 10 meters, according to media reports.

As of Friday, all 18 launch missions of carrier rockets developed by CALT have been completed, with a perfect run of 18 straight successes, according to a CALT official report on Friday. 

The perfect run includes 12 from the Long March-3A rocket family, accomplishing missions for the deployment of four communication satellites, one GEO relay satellite and 10 satellites for the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, or BDS.

Also, the year 2019 witnessed China's first-ever successful rocket launch at sea on June 5, which blasted off from a platform on a large semi-submersible barge in the Yellow Sea and sent two technological experiment satellites and five commercial satellites into the preset orbit.

With more than 30 successful rocket launches this year, China hopes to lead the world for a second year in launch numbers, which also showcases the nation's high-performing aerospace technology, space experts said.

Carrier rocket Long March-5 Y3

Newspaper headline: Long March-5 blasts off to success

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