China begins assembly of new Long March 5 heavy-lift launcher
China is moving on with the expansion of its already broad rocket fleet. The country recently announced it has started the assembly of a next-generation Long March 5 launch vehicle. This heavy-lift booster, which will be used for a variety of space missions, is currently scheduled to conduct its maiden flight in September 2016.
The Long March 5 rocket is now in the final stage of preparations to be ready for its debut. After finishing the assembly process, the rocket will undergo a series of tests and checks ahead of its rollout to the launch pad in September.
“After the assembly is finished in the first half of this year, it will take a little more than a month to test it to ensure that the product is in good shape,” said Yang Hujun, vice chief engineer of the rocket.
The initial tests of the new booster commenced last year in September and lasted more than four months. These tests, carried out at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in Hainan province, were necessary to check the compatibility of the rocket with ground facilities at the center. Final field tests concluded in February 2016.
The debut flight of the Long March 5 booster was initially scheduled for late 2014, but it was delayed for two years. The rocket’s liftoff from Wenchang is currently planned for September; however, the exact date, as well as the payload, has yet to be determined.
There will be six versions of the Long March 5 vehicle, which is being developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). The tallest variant will be the biggest and the most powerful Chinese launcher to date. With a launch mass of 956 tons (867 metric tons), this version will be 198 feet (60.5 meters) tall and will be capable of delivering up to 28 tons (25 metric tons) of payload into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and up to 15 tons (14 metric tons) to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
The three-stage rocket will use various propellants. The core stage will use two liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid hydrogen (LH2) powered YF-77 engines, whereas four strap-on boosters will utilize two LOX and kerosene powered YF-100 engines each. Additionally, the upper stage will be fitted with two LOX and LH2 powered YF-75D engines.
The Long March 5 is designed to launch commercial satellites, space station modules, as well as deep space probes. Among many missions planned to be lifted off atop this booster is the Chang’e-5 lunar spacecraft, scheduled for launch in 2017.
One of the most ambitious projects that will employ this rocket is delivering into orbit the country’s indigenous multi-modular space station, which China plans to build around 2020. The rocket will also be used to send crewed missions into space.
China has set an ambitious plan of conducting a total of 150 Long March rocket launches over the next five years. This year alone, the country aims to carry out more than 20 orbital flights, including a crewed mission, launching two navigation satellites, an orbiting space laboratory, and a satellite designed for high-definition Earth observation.
Video courtesy of Pockn CG
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