Next-gen Long March rocket takes record-breaking flight

Updated: 2016-06-25 20:22


Zhao Lei in Wenchang, Hainan province


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Next-gen Long March rocket takes record-breaking flight

The Long March-7 rocket blasts off at around 8:00 pm Beijing time, trailing a vast column of flame, from a new space launch center in Wenchang, South China's Hainan province, on July 25, 2016.[Photo/Xinhua]

China conducted the first flight of the new-generation Long March rocket on Saturday night, marking the first use of the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in the island province of Hainan.

The rocket took off from its launch pad at the Wenchang center at 8pm and put a Yuanzheng 1A restartable upper stage into space. The Yuanzheng 1A released six payloads into their preset orbits.

The Yuanzheng 1A is a spacecraft dubbed a "shuttle bus in space" by some experts. It is capable of sending multiple satellites or other payloads into different orbits during a single mission. It ferries satellites using its own power system after reaching an initial orbit atop a rocket.

The first mission of Long March 7 achieved the planned goal and opened a new chapter in China's space lab project. Its success laid a solid foundation for the project's upcoming missions. The launch was aimed at testing the design and capabilities of Long March 7, as well as the capacity of the Wenchang center. It was also tasked with verifying the coordination and compatibility of different systems. In addition, Long March 7 will carry out technology demonstration tests with its payloads, such as the scale model of the multi-purpose re-entry capsule.

Today's launch is the 230th flight among the Long March rocket family.

The Long March 7 is a liquid-fuelled carrier rocket developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the leading rocket developer in China. Its propellants are liquid oxygen and kerosene and they are pollution-free, according to the academy.

The Long March 7 is 53.1 meters tall. The diameter of its core module is 3.35 m.

With six 120-ton-thrust engines, the rocket can send 13.5 tons of payloads to the lower Earth orbit and 5.5 tons to the Sun-synchronous orbit. Having a take-off weight of 597 metric tons, it is currently the most powerful rocket in China's launch vehicle family as its payload capability is about 1.5 times bigger than that of the Long March 2F, the most powerful Chinese rocket before the Long March 7, designers said.

Long March 7 is also the first Chinese carrier rocket developed completely through digital design technology and the first to be able to conduct launch in rain thanks to its water-proof designs.

The rocket will be used to transport the country's cargo spacecraft and manned spacecraft, the academy said.

Long March 7 is the third new-type carrier rocket that China has launched since September, after the Long March 6 and Long March 11, both of which performed their maiden flight that month.

No other countries have put as many as three different new rockets into service within just one year, so China has set a record in this field, experts said.

The heavy-lift Long March 5 will carry out its first launch before the end of the year, also at the Wenchang center.

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