China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

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China’s Long March 5 Rocket to Return to Flight in Busy Launch Year

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

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

In recent weeks, Chinese officials have revealed more details about the investigation into the Long March 5 launch failure last year as well as their ambitious launch plans for this year, which include a landing on the far side of the moon.

Long March 5 will be returned to flight in the second half of 2018, according to Bao Weimin, head of the Science and Technology Committee of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). Engineers have identified the cause of a launch failure that occurred last July and are working to verify it, he said.

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China on a Tear With New Launch Vehicles

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

With the successful maiden flight of its heavy-lift Long March 5 booster on Thursday, China has debuted four new launch vehicles in just under 14 months.

The list includes two new boosters — Long March 6 and Long March 11 — that are designed to serve the growing small-satellite launch market. The Long March 7 launcher is a medium-lift booster designed to replace several existing boosters.

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China Working on Reusable Launch Vehicles & Spacecraft

shenzhou1
Shenzhou capsule

Spurred on by developments in the United States, China says it is working on reusable human spacecraft and launch vehicles.

China is studying how to retrieve and reuse manned spacecraft in its future missions, the chief engineer of the nation’s manned space program said on Sunday.

“It’s our next goal to reuse manned spacecraft. We want to make our space exploration cost-effective,” Zhou Jianping said, as China marks Space Day, newly designated by the government to commemorate China’s first satellite launch on April 24, 1970….

Chinese’s official Xinhau news agency also reported that engineers are working on reusable launch vehicles.

Chinese experts have already built a prototype model to test theories on the reusable rocket booster’s landing subsystems. They have completed “experimental verifications” using “multiple parachutes” supposedly attached to the booster, a source with China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technologies (CALT), developer of China’s Long March rocket series, said.

“The experiment has laid solid foundation for the realization of reusable rockets in the country,” the source said.

Ma Zhibin, deputy director of CALT’s aerospace department also confirmed to Xinhua Thursday in a separate interview that Chinese scientists are working on reusable rockets, although the technologies they employ may differ from those of SpaceX.

“There is of course more than one way to do this … I believe we could see some serious results during the 13th Five-Year Plan period,” he said, referring to the five years between 2016 and 2020.

China Developing New Smallsat Launch Vehicle

china_flagThe China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) is developing a smallsat launch vehicle set to fly in about two years, according to a presentation made on Wednesday during the International Astronautical Conference in Jerusalem.

Mark Schaffer ‏(@mgschaffer), a senior Senior Aerospace Engineer at SpaceWorks Enterprises, provided the following details via Twitter on a presentation by Haoliang Yang of the Beijing Institute of Astronautical Systems Engineering.

Name: Naga-L or Naga-1 (name differed between paper, presentation)
First Flight: ~2 years (end of 2017)
Payloads: 1,550kg to 400km LEO @ 41deg, 820kg to 500km SSO, 620kg to 700km SSO
Launch Options: China (@ 41deg), Indonesia & Tanzania for equatorial, Sweden for SSO
Technical Details: 2 stage LOX/RP + LOX/LH2, 100t GLOW, 30m length
Cost: Approximately $10 million per flight.