China's biggest manufacturer of carrier rockets will soon begin to develop the next-generation Long March 8 medium-lift carrier rocket to meet the demands of commercial launch service, according to a senior manager.
Li Tongyu, head of carrier rocket development at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told China Daily that the Long March 8 will have a modular design and will use engines that have been used by the Long March 5 and Long March 7, both new rockets developed by the academy.
"Its core stage will be based on those used by the Long March 7 and Long March 3A, and it will have two solid-propelled boosters that are 2 meters in diameter," he said. "We will spend up to three years on its development and if everything goes well, its maiden flight will take place by the end of 2018."
Long March 8 will be capable of sending a payload of about 4.5 metric tons to a sun-synchronous orbit, or 2.5 tons to geosynchronous transfer orbit, he said. In a sun-synchronous orbit, a satellite circles the Earth at the same rate that the Earth orbits the sun, whereas with a geosynchronous orbit, the satellite matches the rotation of the Earth.
Li said use of the Long March 8 will extensively reduce the launch costs of low- and middle-orbit satellites, giving it bright prospects in the commercial launch market.
Researchers at the academy are currently developing the latest variant of the Long March 5 heavy-lift carrier rocket. It will be tasked with placing the core module of the country's space station into orbit in 2018, he noted.
China plans to put a manned space station into service around 2022. It will consist of three parts — a core module attached to two space labs, each of which weigh about 20 tons. The facility is expected to be the world's only space station after the planned retirement of the International Space Station in 2024.
The first model in the country's heavy-lift rocket family, the 57-meter-tall Long March 5, made its maiden flight in November. It is China's mightiest carrier rocket and one of the world's most powerful launch vehicles currently in operation.
The second launch of the Long March 5 will be made in June to lift a large communications satellite into space. Before the end of 2017, China will conduct the rocket's third mission, sending the Chang'e 5 lunar probe to the moon, according to Li.
The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology also has opened preliminary research on a super-heavy rocket that will have a takeoff weight of 3,000 tons and can transport a 140-ton payload into low Earth orbit.
If research and development go well, the super-heavy rocket will carry out its first flight around 2030, allowing China to land astronauts on the moon, and to send and retrieve Mars probes, designers at the academy said.