China Plans Another Busy Launch Year with Return of Long March 5

Long March 5 on the launch pad. (Credit: China National Space Administration)

After a record 39 launches in 2018, China is planning to launch over 50 satellites aboard more than 30 launch vehicles this year, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) has announced.

The manifest includes the return to flight of China’s largest launch vehicle, Long March 5, after a two-year stand down. The booster, which can lift 14 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO), failed during its second flight on July 2, 2017 after a successful maiden flight eight months earlier.

Plans call for Long March 5 to launch the Shijian 20 spacecraft in July. The spacecraft is an ultra-high performance geosynchronous communications satellite.

If the flight is successful, another Long March 5 will launch the Chang’e-5 spacecraft to the moon. The mission will return soil samples from the lunar surface.

Engineers are also preparing the upgraded Long March 5B booster for its first flight. The rocket, which will be capable of launching 22 metric tons to LEO, will launch elements of China’s new space station.

CASC officials also said there are plans to launch 10 BeiDou navigation satellites this year. A total of 18 BeiDou spacecraft were launched in 2018. The entire system will be completed next year.

China plans to launch the Gaofen-7 remote sensing satellite later this year, officials said.

The first sea launch of the Long March 11 will also occur in 2019. An additional three Long March 11 flights are planned from land.

The government launches could be joined by a number of private ones this year. Space News reports OneSpace and iSpace plan to conduct orbital launches of their boosters in the first half of 2019. Each company launched suborbital versions of their rockets twice last year.

Landspace might also attempt another launch of its Zhuque-1 solid rocket this year. The maiden launch of the booster failed in October due to an anomaly in its third stage.