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.

The table below provides details on China’s four new launch vehicles.

New Chinese Launch Vehicles, 2015-16
Launcher Debut
Height Payload LEO
Payload SSO
Payload GTO
Long March 11 9/25/15 4 (solid) 20.8 m (68.2 ft) 700 kg (1,543.2) 350 kg (771.6 lb)
Long March 6 9/19/15 3 (liquid) 29 m (95.1 ft) 1,080 kg (2,381 lb)
Long March 7 6/25/16 2 (liquid) 53.1 m (174.2 ft) 13,500 kg (29,762) 5,500 kg (12,125)
Long March 5 11/03/16 2 (liquid) 62 meters (203.4 ft) 25,000 kg (55,116 lb) 14,000 kg (30,865 lb)

Long March 5 gives China a booster comparable to United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, which can lift payloads weighing 25,980 kg (57,276 lb) to low Earth orbit (LEO) and 14,220 kg (31,350 lb) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).

Long March 5 will be used to launch modules for China’s permanent space station, which is set to begin construction around 2018. Next year, Long March 5 is scheduled to launch the Chang’e 5 mission, which is designed to return soil samples from the surface of the moon.

The Long March 5 booster’s first and second stages are powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen (LOX). Four booster rockets are fueled by RP-1 and liquid oxygen.

Long March 7 will replace the Long March 2 and Long March 3 boosters. The first stage is based on the Long March 2F rocket that is used to launch aboard Shenzhou spacecraft.

The three-stage Long March 6 serves the small-satellite market. The booster can deliver payloads weighing up to 1,080 kg (2,381 lb) in sun synchronous orbit (SSO).

Long March 5, Long March 6 and Long March 7 share the YF-100 engine, which is powered by RP1 and LOX. These fuels are cleaner than the hypergolic propellants that power older Long March boosters.

Long March 11 is a solid-fuel launch vehicle designed for rapid launch of micro satellites. It was developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology with the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.

China also is planning to introduce another launch vehicle, Naga-L, by the end of 2017. The booster will be capable of lofting payloads weighing up to 1,550 kg (3,417 lb) to LEO and 620-820 kg (1,367-1,808 lb) to SSO for $10 million.

Naga-L is set to become the first Chinese launch vehicle to operate outside of China. Its manufacturer, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) are examining launch sites in Indonesia, Tanzania, Sweden and China.

China is also studying the development of the Long March 9 booster, which would be capable of placing payloads weighing 130,000 kg (286,601 lb) into LEO. The booster’s first flight could occur around 2025 in preparation for a human lunar landing in 2029.