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Sept. 19, 2015
China Launches Long March 6 Carrier Rocket into Space
At 07:00 Beijing time on Saturday (23:00 UTC on Friday), China will perform the first ever launch of a Long March 6 rocket. Neither its size nor its payload – including a number of small amateur radio satellites – are notable, yet the event will mark a new era in Chinese spaceflight.
China’s established Long March series has helped the country go from putting its first satellite into space in 1970, to achieving human spaceflight in 2003, establish communications and navigation systems, Earth observation constellations, and put its first space lab into low Earth orbit.
Image above: Long March 6 rocket (CZ6) to launch at 23:00 UTC on 18 Sept 2015 from Taiyuan, delivering 20 satellites to 520 km.
However, after beginning development in the 2000s, the Long March 6 is the first of a long-waited new generation of Chinese launch vehicles, designed to take China’s space ambitions to the next level.
Together with the Long March 5 and 7 rocket families, Long March 6 has been designed to meet China’s future requirements for its space programs, providing increased reliability and adaptability, lower costs and preparation, and allow much heavier payloads to be put in orbit.
“The Long March 6 is for relatively light payloads and intended to give them a quick turnaround time capability. It gives them more flexibility in satellite launches, but it is the Long March 5 that will really signal a leap forward in Chinese capabilities,” says Joan Johnson-Freese, Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College, but expressing her own views.
New possibilities - including Moon mission?
Saturday’s launch will be the first real flight test of the YF-100 engine, based on Russia’s RD-120. The YF-100 will also power the heavy-lift Long March 5, which will be capable of lifting 25 tonnes to Low Earth Orbit.
Having a rocket comparable to the American Delta-IV Heavy will treble China’s payload lifting capacity, and bring many new possibilities, and possibly a trip to the Moon.
“China’s three step human spaceflight program, Shenzhou, relies on the Long March 5 to lift its large space station to orbit, and in order to do a human lunar mission - anticipated as their “next step” - the Long March 5 is needed as well,” Johnson-Freese explains.
China’s largest ever rocket, Long March 5 (CZ5)
The Long March 5 will also launch the ambitious Chang’e-5 lunar mission, which aims to put a lander on the Moon and return samples to Earth in 2017.
Long March 5 and medium-lift Long March 7 missions will lift off from a massive new space port constructed in Wenchang on the island province of Hainan.
The Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre, from which launches will take advantage of the Earth’s greater rotational speed at lower latitudes, took six years to construct and cost an estimated five billion yuan (US$800 million) and is another crucial component in China’s plans.
“What this means for the US and all space faring nations is another indicator that China is a long-term player in space with expanding capabilities. It cannot be denied or ignored, as the US has tended to do,” notes Johnson-Freese.
Professor Huang Jun at the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics told gbtimes that the new rockets mark a major technological development for China.
“My opinion is that, despite the fact that China has made great progress in its series rocket and space launches in the past few decades, there is still a big gap between China and the world's advanced level,” says Huang.
“Therefore, the development of these new launch vehicles is to meet the further space and deep space exploration on one hand, and to catch up the world's most sophisticated space technologies.”
Image above: A booster of the upcoming Long March 7 (CZ7), one of China's next generation rockets, in Tianjin, North China.
“This new generation of Chinese launch vehicle series uses universal modularized design which can be easily combined into new rocket variants for various missions. The reliability and launch preparation time are improved and the launching cost will be lowered.”
Huang also notes that the incendiary agents used for these rockets are kerosene and liquid hydrogen which are non-toxic, low or non-polluting compared with the highly toxic unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) used in the current Long March 2-4 series.
Long March series
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Images, Video, Text, Credits: CASC/CCTV/gbtimes/Andrew Jones/Wang Jie.