By Craig Covault
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
|Original Launch Thrust metric tons thrust force 2009
|New 2012 launch thrust metric ton's
|Payload capacity- metric tons mass
|Maximum overall booster diameter meters
|Maximum design height for study meters
|Launch mass metric tons
||4 - liquid Kerosene, Lox boosters
||4 five segment solid propellant motors
|Strap-on boosters diameter meters
|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
|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
|Core second stage maximum diameters meters
|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
Related link: First Look: China's Big New Rockets