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First Look: China’s Big New Rockets

Images illustrate the diversity of activity under China’s heavy lift rocket program.Top graphic depicts a Long March 5 mission with liquid booster and satellite separation. Chart highlights Long March 5 and Long March 9 vehicles, while a Long March 5 propellant tank is at right. Image Credit: CALT

Images from China’s new heavy rocket development program show spotless production facilities with advanced tooling to build China’s new Long March 5/CZ-5 heavy rocket, along with even more advanced launchers to come.

In addition to CZ-5 hardware development,  China is completing design studies on two 11 million lb. thrust Long March 9 maximum heavy lift rocket configurations. If approved for final development, one of  the designs would emerge for flight in 2020-2025 with the capability to launch Chinese astronauts to the surface of the Moon.

The concepts mean that China is designing “a Super Saturn V rocket,” says Charles P. Vick, a highly experienced analyst with GlobalSecurity.Org.

The two options for China’s “Super Saturn V” rocket are the favored “Option A” oxygen/kerosene version at left and less favored oxygen/hydrogen “Option B” with solid rocket boosters on the right. Image Credit: CALT

The Long March 5 and other future planned vehicles are shown here in context with each other for the first time in a major news article.

Images of the construction underway at China’s new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island are also shown as the site is readied to fire Long March 5’s  into space by 2014.

Currently, six Long March 5 vehicle configurations are planned for different missions, with a maximum payload capacity of 55,000 lbs. to LEO and nearly 31,000 lbs. to geostationary transfer orbits. This makes it more powerful than a Delta IV Heavy, depending upon the mission configuration.

Long March 5 stage is welded in modern assembly rig. Photo Credit: CALT

Details emerging from largely secret Chinese rocket projects point up the importance of the Long March 5 to future far more powerful Chinese rockets.

Whether the timing of China’s Long March 9 development is a deliberate challenge to the U. S. is unknown. But while neither China nor the U. S. professes to be in a new space race, they may well already be in one.

The most powerful version of the new U. S. Space Launch System (SLS) rocket currently under development is scheduled to be ready for flight at the same time as the CZ-9 to carry NASA astronauts beyond Earth orbit to the Moon, Lagrangian points, asteroids and eventually Mars.

Modern jig for Long March 5 welding and assembly is comparable with western manufacturing hardware. Photo Credit: CALT

The new Long March 9 details were revealed by Liang Xiaohong, the Communist Party Chief at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT),  China’s largest rocket  contractor. Vick at Global Security did an extensive review of Liang’s revelations.

Liang outlined several new Long March versions, virtually all of them testing elements that would eventually find their way into the Long March 9 that has 4 million lb. more of liftoff thrust than the 7.5 million lb. thrust NASA Saturn V.  Forty-three years ago this week a Saturn V propelled the Apollo 11 astronauts to the first manned landing on the Moon on July 20, 1969.

The Long March 5 appears positioned in the development flow to function like the U. S. Saturn 1B rockets did in relation to the Saturn V in Apollo. That role was to use a powerful, but smaller launch vehicle to launch key elements of the program like the Apollo Command/Service modules and Lunar Modules for test in Earth orbit.

There is one major difference with the Long March 5 however. It is powerful enough to launch a Shenzhou manned  spacecraft on a lunar orbit flight, a mission the Saturn 1Bs could not duplicate.

Larger view of new Long March fleet chart shows medium class Long March 7 at center with smaller but upgraded vehicles to the left and a whole new range of Chinese heavy lift options to the right. The Long March 5 alone has 6 configurations. Image Credit: CALT

For the  massive Long March 9, the Chinese have both an “Option A” oxygen/kerosene powered launcher and an “Option B oxygen/hydrogen rocket. The detailed specifications for both rocket concepts are at the bottom of this article.

Option A appears to be the preferred of the two options because its first stage uses liquid propellant strap on boosters, compared with ”Option B” that combines an oxygen/hydrogen core with solid rocket boosters, an area where China lacks experience.

The Option A concept would stand 321 ft. tall and have a design payload to low Earth orbit of  130 metric tons (286,601 lb.)  exactly the same as the largest of two SLS versions.

Hainan Island launch pad for Long March 5 is well under way toward being ready for its first launch in 2014. Photo Credit: CALT

As part of an oxygen/kerosene Long March 9 project, China has already started development of a large new oxygen/kerosene rocket engine called the YF-650 that stems directly from the Long March 5 in advanced production.

“The YF-100, oxygen/kerosene engine with 120 metric tons of thrust for the new Long March-5 debuting in 2014 forms the technical basis for 330 metric tons thrust YF-330 single thrust chamber engine,” said Vick.

“It in turn is being combined with a second identical thrust chamber engine to create the YF-650 engine with 650 metric tons thrust,” he said.

Rocket engine test stand fire Long March 5 engine. Photo Credit: CALT

This is similar to the Russian Energomash RD-180 design used on the Russian Zenit.  The same engine was essentially cut in half to power the Atlas V.

“The Chinese will combine several of them to achieve 5,200 metric tons of liftoff thrust.  That equates to an 11.46 million lb. thrust ‘Super Saturn V’ class rocket,” said Vick.

Data on the Option A and Option B Chinese “Super Saturn Vs” compiled by Vick from Chinese sources is presented in chart form below.

CZ-9/Long March-9 Lunar, Planetary Heavy Lift Booster

Configurations Studies Concept-A* Concept-B
Original Launch Thrust metric tons thrust force 2009 3,000 3,000
New 2012 launch thrust metric ton’s 5,200 5,000
Payload capacity- metric tons mass 130 133
Maximum overall booster diameter meters 15.70 15.70
Maximum design height for study meters 98 101-108
Launch mass metric tons 4,100 4,150
Strap-on boosters 4 – liquid Kerosene, Lox boosters 4 five segment solid propellant motors
Strap-on boosters diameter meters 3.35 3.35
Strap-on booster thrust metric tons 1 x 650 x 4 = 2,600, engine YF-650 1 x 1,000, x 4 = 4,000 Solid Motor
Strap-on propellant mass metric tons 1 x 320 x 4= 1,280 1 x 575 4 =2,300
Core Stages diameter meters 8-9 8-9
Core first stage metric tons thrust, propellants and engines 4 x 650 = 2,600, YF-650 engines, Kerosene, Lox propellants** 5 x 200 = 1,000 YF-220 engines, Lox, Hydrogen propellants
Core first stage propellant mass metric tons 1,756 1,000
Core second stage maximum diameters meters 8-9 8-9
Core second stage thrust metric tons and propellants 2 x 200 = 400, Lox, Hydrogen propellants 1 x 200 = 200, YF-220 engine, Lox, Hydrogen
Core second stage propellant mass metric tons 500 200

Hainan Island launch pads for the Long March 5 and smaller Long March 7 rockets are visible in this overhead shot. There are separate Vehicle Assembly Buildings for each launch pad. Photo Credit: China Space Blog / Bing

 

19 comments to First Look: China’s Big New Rockets

  • saturn

    so China will build its $L$ … not buys 25 Falcon-9 per mission to send astronauts on the Moon

  • Joe

    Great article. Thanks

  • [...] to this article at AmericaSpace.org, the Chinese are considering two possible super-heavy launch vehicles. Both are considered to have [...]

  • Thanks for this excellent article!

  • Serge

    For GoogleMaps it’s (will be) at
    19.639603,110.949359

  • pete

    @Saturn
    SpaceX’s F9 rockets don’t go to the moon. The Falcon Heavy might, but the Long March 9 would have 3 times the thrust of the proposed FH. There is no national prestige in buying moon rockets from an American company.

  • Reminds me of the old Nova rocket NASA onced dreamed of building. Now we know what the rest of the world felt like back in the 1960s when they were watching us go to the Moon. Ah, what must go on in far off fabled China.

  • Lawrence

    Werner von Braun’s Saturn C-5 kerosene/liquid oxygen
    engines produced over 7.5 Million pounds of thrust and
    performed spectacularly….so, why can’t the Chines DOUBLE
    that performance on proven Kerosene/LOX technology?

    The US/NASA has been foolish not to have kept building and developing the Kerosene/LOX driven super heavy boosters….and they are foolish they didn’t put thorium
    reactor modular deep space engines in low Earth orbit, supply them with modularized tanks of seawater, and we’d
    have had a colony of the Moon and Mars back in the 70s. You just don’t allow the Thorium nuclear reactor engine modules to ever return to the atmosphere of the Earth. They would have made GREAT space tugs for cargo and men to deep space outposts decades ago.

  • Lawrence

    Werner von Braun’s Saturn C-5 kerosene/liquid oxygen
    engines produced over 7.5 Million pounds of thrust and
    performed spectacularly….so, why can’t the Chinese DOUBLE
    that performance on proven Kerosene/LOX technology?

    The US/NASA has been foolish not to have kept building and developing the Kerosene/LOX driven super heavy boosters….and they are foolish they didn’t put thorium
    reactor modular deep space engines in low Earth orbit, supply them with modularized tanks of seawater, and we’d
    have had a colony of the Moon and Mars back in the 70s. You just don’t allow the Thorium nuclear reactor engine modules to ever return to the atmosphere of the Earth. They would have made GREAT space tugs for cargo and men to deep space outposts decades ago.

  • Lawrence

    Robert A. Heinlein the SciFi writer, envisioned the Thorium fueled nuclear rocket engine in the late
    1940s and early 1950s. THAT’s the way NASA should have
    gone in the 60s after Apollo.

    We would have had between 50,000 and 100,000 people in
    colonies on the Moon and on Mars…and working in deep
    space mining the asteroid belt RIGHT NOW had they been
    farsighted enough THEN!!

  • Lars

    It looks like the Chinese are just as skilled at powerpoint rocket design… :-)

    I’d love to see them build that monster (either version), but at their pace, that is at least 20 years away.

  • Dan Adamo

    Excellent and much appreciated article, Craig. But what you’re reporting from China about heavy lift performance with respect to the Saturn V doesn’t ring true to me. Unfortunately, NASA appears to be guilty of the same distortion regarding even the fully evolved “130 mt” SLS. Permit me to elaborate.

    First, I have a real problem with using liftoff thrust as a measure of heavy lift performance. Anyone can load up a first stage with strap-on boosters and win this game. IMHO, the critical metric in heavy lift performance is initial mass in low Earth orbit (IMLEO). In an ideal world, all heavy lift rocket producers would publish an IMLEO value reflecting a single due east launch to a minimal circular orbit height such as 185 km.

    An Apollo lunar mission’s Saturn V launch targeted Earth parking orbits very nearly meeting these ideal IMLEO criteria. On these missions, IMLEO consisted of a partially depleted S-IVB third stage, Instrument Unit (avionics), adapter panels enclosing the Lunar Module, and the Command/Service/Lunar modules. Early lunar missions achieved IMLEO in the range of 133 to 136 mt. The last three missions used a parking orbit height near 167 km and an uprated Saturn V design to set IMLEO records slightly in excess of 140 mt. If anyone wants to check my bookkeeping, all the component masses are published in Orloff & Harland, “Apollo: The Definitive Sourcebook”.

    Why then is the 130 mt SLS touted as more powerful than a Saturn V? It only qualifies as such due to more smoke and fire at liftoff as far as I can tell. Likewise, why is either Long March-9 concept dubbed “a Super Saturn V”? This is all highly revisionist of rocket science history in my opinion and likely misleading policy-makers, Congress, and the public here in the U.S.

  • [...] this is true, they’re wasting their money on a heavy [...]

  • Lawrence

    Think Thorium Nuclear Space Cargo Tugs

    Plenty of cheap, non flammable seawater to power them, taken to Low Earth Orbit by conventional kerosene/lox
    boosters.

    When they get men and equipment to water ice caves on the Moon, in the canyons of Mars, and the asteroids, they have all the fuel they need to go on out to Europa, Titan,
    and other deep space objects with water ice.

    The Thorium Nuclear Cargo Booster is the key to opening
    up deep space operations.

  • Jeff Wright

    They are investing in the tried and true concept heavy lift. They are not wasting time listening to shrill libertarians or HLV bashing know-nothings who want Rube Goldberg depots that do nothing but allow boil-off to keep standard LV makers employed. That’s your wasteful pork.

    The Chinese understand engineering better than the critics of Ares V/SLS do.

  • bob

    Lawrence,

    Put down the pipe.
    You know nothing of saturn V, or even rockets. Saturn V rocket burns LH2/LOX, not LOX/kerosene. The only countries with this tech currently are Russian and the Chinese.

    • Bob,

      Two fuels were used to power the Saturn V, RP-1/LOX and LH2/LOX.

      The Saturn V first stage, S-IC, had 5 Rocketdyne F-1 engines that burned RP-1/LOX, or LOX/Kerosene, and generated initially 7.5M lbf. With the advent of the F-1A in 1967, which itself developed 1.75M lbf, a second gen. S-IC could have generated 8.75 lbf. That’s probably why Huntsville’s Dynetics is bringing-back the F-1A for the SLS.

      The Saturn V second and third stages, S-II and S-IVB respectively, were powered by Rocketdyne J-2 engines that fed on LH2/LOX.

      http://www.astronautix.com/engines/f1a.htm