Spaceflight Insider

China’s 2nd Long March 5 rocket deemed ‘unsuccessful’

Long March 5 with Shijian-18

A Long March 5 launches with the Shijian-18 satellite. Some time later, the rocket failed, according to Chinese media. Photo Credit: China Xinhua News

Despite what appeared to be a smooth launch all the way through first stage separation, China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5, failed to deliver the Shijian-18 satellite to orbit, according to Xinhua.

“Abnormity was detected during the flight of the rocket,” Xinhua reported. “Further investigation will be carried out.”

This was only the second flight of this rocket design, which uses more environmentally friendly fuels, as opposed to the Long March 2, 3, and 4 rockets, which use more toxic and dangerous hypergolic fuels. The first flight, which was successful, occurred in November 2016.

Liftoff took place at 7:23 a.m. EDT (11:23 GMT) from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island, China’s southernmost province. It was carrying the Shijian-18 communications satellite toward geostationary transfer orbit.

The spacecraft was experimental and based on a new DFH-5 satellite platform designed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

The platform sports electric propulsion, a deployable radiator, and two solar wings that generate between 10 and 30 kilowatts of power. The design was expected to last between 12 and 15 years.

According to Spaceflight Now, China was to use Shijian-18 to test the new satellite design in order to sell it to governments and commercial customers in the future.

Long March 5

The launch vehicle is 187 feet (57 meters) tall. It is a two-stage rocket with four strap-on boosters around the core stage.

In total, it can lift about 55,000 pounds (25,000 kilograms) into low-Earth orbit, giving it a capability similar to the U.S. Delta IV Heavy, which is currently the most powerful active rocket.

The four strap-on boosters are 91 feet (27.6 meters) tall and 11 feet (3.35 meters) wide. They are powered by two YF-100 engines that consume rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen (LOX) to produce a combined 2.2 million pounds (9,600 kilonewtons) of thrust at liftoff.

They burn for about 180 seconds before falling away from the core stage.

At 104 feet (31.7 meters) tall and 16 feet (5 meters) wide, the core stage, with its two YF-77 engines burn for about 480 seconds after liftoff. Each of the two engines consumes liquid hydrogen (LH2) and LOX to produce about 230,000 pounds (1,020 kilonewtons) of thrust.

Per live video from China, this phase seemed to have gone according to plan. Stage separation took place successfully and the 35-foot (10.6-meter) long second stage’s two YF-75D engines began to burn. They consume LH2 and LOX to produce some 39,680 pounds (176.5 kilonewtons) of thrust.

Some video of this phase of flight was shown. However, it is unclear exactly when the failure occurred. Russia Today reported that the post-launch press conference was canceled and foreign media was taken to a hotel with no further notice.

The Long March 5 rocket is expected to be used for many of China’s space ambitions, including launching a sample-return mission to the moon in November 2017, heavier communications satellites and even space station modules.

Video courtesy of CGTN



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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