HELSINKI – Rocket designers with China’s Major Launch Vehicle Institute have scrapped plans for a super-heavy, expendable launcher in favor of a design featuring a reusable first stage.
A new model of the Long March 9 missile that features reticle fins and no side boosters was recently shown at the ongoing Zhuhai Air Show in southern China, fueling speculation that the long-term plan for a consumable missile has been shot down.
Liu Bing, director of the General Design Department of the Chinese Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), later confirmed the new trend in an interview with China Central Television on November 7.
The new, current plan for the rocket will be a three-stage 108-meter high, 10-meter-diameter, 4,180-metric-ton rocket capable of delivering 150 tons to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and 50 tons to lunar orbit. (LTO), or 35 tons to Mars transition orbit. The missile is scheduled to be ready for test flight around 2030.
Liu told CCTV that the design has not been finalized and is likely to see changes as the team chooses the optimal path, with a commitment to continually breaking through technological challenges and increasing launch power.
The Long March 9 missile project has been in development at CALT for a number of years. The original plan was to build a consumable rocket capable of delivering 100 metric tons or more into low Earth orbit.
The original design would have made Long March 9 similar to NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which was the first for the Artemis 1 mission, Currently sitting on the board At Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center as Tropical Storm Nicole approaches Florida.
In recent years, a senior CALT official Long Lehao has introduced new concepts for Long March 9, apparently in response to advances in reuse demonstrated by SpaceX.
Presentations suggested, unofficially, moving away from the consumable version with boosts, shown at the Zhuhai Airshow last yearto separate reusable kerosene (sometimes referred to as Version 21 and version 22) and methane concepts. The methane version could be ready by 2035, according to Long.
The new model maintains the old timeframe for a test flight, indicating the shift from the large, 500-ton twin-sleeve engines to the combinations of low-propulsion single-foil engines indicated in Long’s offerings to facilitate recovery and reuse.
At the same time, the Sixth Academy of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which also owns CALT, recently Procedure The first hot-fire test of the complete system of the YF-130 500-ton liquid oxygen and kerosene engine, which is believed to have been developed to run the Long March 9 consumable. How will the engine be used in the future?
China’s new generation crew launch vehicle was also shown at Zhuhai, sometimes referred to as Long March 5 Dengyue (“moon landing”) or Long March 5G. The width indicates a shift from the oblique nose cones on the lateral cores of the earlier models.
The rocket will be able to send 27 metric tons to the lunar injection. A pair of new rockets will be able to send a manned spacecraft and, separately, a landing pile, into orbit around the Moon. This will allow two astronauts to land on the moon.
Liu said the missile is almost ready for the prototyping stage and will conduct a test flight in 2027. It was not clear if this indicated any Single stick alternative To launch a new-generation crewed spacecraft into LEO – previously scheduled for its first launch in 2026 – or the full three-core, three-stage version of lunar missions.
CASC recently performed 300-second mission cycle tests of the rocket’s second-stage YF-100M vacuum-improved engines.
Top Chinese space officials including Long Lehao and Ye Peijian said last year that the country would be able to implement this idea for a short-range lunar launch mission. before 2030.