China to introduce its newest Long March 7 rocket to the world
China is about to introduce to the world its Long March 7 rocket, the newest addition to the country’s fast expanding fleet of launch vehicles. The booster is expected to blast off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, located on the island of Hainan, most probably on Saturday, June 25; however, the exact time of the launch is still undisclosed.
The launch window extends until June 29; thus, we could see the start of the mission even in the middle of next week.
The debuting Long March 7 rocket is a 174.2-foot (53.1-meter) tall medium-lift two-stage launch vehicle. It was developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) and is based on the Long March 2F rocket.
The nearly 600-metric-ton launch vehicle is 11 feet (3.35 meters) in diameter and is capable of lifting up to 13.5 metric tons to a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and about 5.5 metric tons to a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The rocket is fitted with four strap-on boosters powered by YF-100 engines. The boosters are attached to the first stage of the launch vehicle which is 11 feet (3.35 meters) in diameter and is equipped with two YF-100 engines. The second stage has the same diameter as the first stage; however, it is powered by different propulsion units – a set of four YF-115 engines.
The newly-developed rocket is designed to transport cargo for China’s planned space station and is expected to become the main launcher for future space missions. Currently, it is the country’s most powerful launch vehicle.
China hopes that its new Long March 7 rocket will be more environment-friendly than previous launchers in the series. According to Hu Xiaojun, the rocket’s deputy chief designer assistant, the new booster relies on liquid oxygen and kerosene as fuel, cheaper and less dangerous than the propellants used by some of the earlier launch vehicles.
“During the launching process, we will also monitor all the environmental data to provide a reference for future rockets,” said Zhang Zhengping, expert of CALT.
The Long March 7 rocket is also designed to be more weather-resistant than its predecessors. The booster is waterproof and can be launched on rainy days. Moreover, the rocket is equipped with wind-resistance devices allowing it to withstand gales during its flight into space.
On its maiden mission, the Long March 7 launcher will fly into space carrying a prototype of the country’s next-generation manned capsule and several small satellites. Little is known as about the mission’s payload as the Chinese media released only brief information about the spacecraft. According to various press releases, it will be a scaled-down model of a re-entry capsule developed to test the descent capabilities of future crewed flights.
“The launch will open a new chapter in the history of Chinese space exploration,” a space scientist involved in the development of the new Long March rockets said.
The capsule features a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) antenna, parachutes, and an antenna specially designed to prevent radio silence during hypersonic re-entry. The spacecraft is being designed with the aim to serve as a future transportation system for cargo and crews to LEO and beyond, including possible missions to the Moon.
The Long March 7 rocket was delivered to the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in May 2016. Afterward, it was assembled, and the team conducted a set of initial checkouts to fully prepare the booster for its planned rollout to the launch pad designated Site LC-2. The rocket was transported to its launch site on Wednesday, June 22, after a three-hour journey.
After liftoff, the Long March 7 rocket will commence its short vertical ascent, powered by its four strap-on boosters for slightly more than three minutes until their separation. Then the launch vehicle will be accelerated by its first stage alone for about 15 seconds, and shortly after, this stage is expected to be jettisoned. From that moment, the rocket’s second stage will take control over the flight; however, its burn time isn’t exactly specified as it is still not determined whether the launch vehicle will fly in a configuration with a possible optional third stage, named YZ-1.
The upcoming mission will also mark the first liftoff from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center; the construction of the site was completed by the end of October 2014. The center was selected for its low latitude, which will allow for a substantial increase in payload, necessary for the future manned programs. Due to its proximity to the equator, it can save fuel consumption during space launches. The launch site, thanks to its location on an island, enables easy transportation of the large rocket components by ship and ensures that rocket debris descending from the sky falls into the ocean instead of over populated inland areas.
The launch will be open to the public. Up to 25,000 spectators should be able to view it in person for the first time in the history of Chinese orbital launches. For this occasion, the government designated eight viewing areas.
The maiden flight of Long March 7 will be the eighth orbital mission for China this year. It will also be the 230th launch of the Long March rocket series. The country’s next mission is currently scheduled for July 2016 when a Long March 2D booster is slated to send the QUantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS) technology demonstrator into orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu Province. The exact date of the launch is yet to be announced.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.