(ECNS) — The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) at China Aerospace and Technology Corp is collaborating with major domestic institutions to co-develop reusable launch vehicles, scheduled to undertake maiden flights by around 2020, Chinese-language newspaper Science and Technology Daily reports.
The goal is to reduce the cost of carrying payloads to just one-tenth of existing expendable launch vehicles, significantly shortening preparation time for a launch and complete trips from ground to space and back just like jetliners.
According to Chen Hongbo, a senior researcher at CALT, reusable launch vehicles are able to carry men or payloads to their designated orbits and return to Earth relying solely on inbuilt power systems, and can be used repeatedly for launch missions.
Reusable launch vehicles under research will have the characteristics of both spacecraft and aircraft, it was added. China is making improvements on current rocket engines to make them reusable.
After each maiden flight around 2020, more flights will follow to verify new launch vehicle ability and reusability.
SpaceX in the United States, well-known in recent years for developing the reusable Falcon 9, had said earlier that it would be able to cut launch costs by 80 percent in future. China has set a similar goal for its reusable launch vehicles, the paper said.
According to Chen, the new vehicles are designed to be reused more than 20 times, while the initial goal is to reduce the cost for carrying payloads to one-fifth of the current level, and to one-tenth in future.
They will also employ rapid testing concepts and technology introduced from the aviation field, and are aimed to make flights in just one day, compared to several months or at least a week or so needed for preparing a launch under current technological conditions.
Chen said the new launch vehicle is designed mainly to reach orbits of about 300 to 500 kilometers above Earth's surface, and can meet the need for "fast, reliable and inexpensive" launches in future, including carrying personnel for China's space station as well as materials. In addition, it can meet the needs for launching payloads for both military and civil use, and facilitate the development of new civil industries such as space tourism.