China scraps Long March 9 missile plan in favor of reusable version

China scraps Long March 9 missile plan in favor of reusable version

China scraps Long March 9 missile plan in favor of reusable version

HELSINKI — Rocket designers at China’s Main Launch Vehicle Institute have scrapped plans for an expendable super-heavy launch vehicle in favor of a design that features a reusable first stage.

A new model of the long March 9 missile, with net fins and no side boosters, was recently shown at the ongoing Zhuhai Airshow in southern China, prompting speculation that the long-standing plan for the expendable missile has been scrapped.

Liu Bing, director of the chief design department of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), later confirmed the new direction in an interview with China Central Television on November 7.

The new, current plan for the rocket will be a three-stage, 108-meter-tall, 10-meter-diameter, 4,180-meter-ton rocket capable of delivering 150 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO), 50 tons to lunar orbit. (LTO), or 35 tons to Mars transfer orbit. It is planned that the rocket will be ready for a test flight around 2030.

China scraps Long March 9 missile plan in favor of reusable version
Long March 9 reusable version detailed in 2022 Zhuhai. Credit: OurSpace

Liu told CCTV, however, that the design has not been finalized and there will likely be changes as the team chooses the optimal path, while remaining committed to the goal of constantly breaking through technological challenges and increasing its launch capacity.

The Long March 9 rocket project has been under development at CALT for several years. The original plan was to build an expendable rocket capable of delivering 100 metric tons or more to LEO.

The original design would have made the long March 9 a replica of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the first of which for the Artemis 1 mission. currently sitting in storage at Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center with Tropical Storm Nicole approaching Florida.

In recent years, senior CALT official Long Lehao ​​has presented new concepts for the Long March 9, apparently echoing the reusability developments demonstrated by SpaceX.

Presentations unofficially suggested a switch from the amp-powered version shown at the Zhuhai Airshow. last yearto separate reusable kerosene (sometimes called version 21 and version 22) and methane fueled concepts. A methane version could be ready by 2035, according to Long.

The new model maintains the old test flight schedule, suggesting a transition from the large, twin-nozzle 500-ton thrust engines to the low-thrust, single-nozzle engine clusters specified in Long’s presentations to facilitate recovery and reuse.

Meanwhile, the Sixth Academy of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), also owned by CALT, recently done First full-system hot-fire test of the 500-ton YF-130 kerosene-liquid-oxygen engine believed to have been developed to power the expendable Long March 9. How the engine will be used in the future remains to be seen.

Also on display in Zhuhai was China’s next-generation crew launch vehicle, sometimes called the Long March 5 Dengyue (“moon landing”) or Long March 5G. The rendering shows the shift from the slanted nose cones of the earlier models to the side cores.

The rocket will be capable of sending 27 metric tons to the interlunar injection. A pair of new rockets will be capable of sending a crewed spacecraft and a separate lander into lunar orbit. This would allow two astronauts to land on the Moon.

Liu said the rocket is almost ready for the prototype stage and will have a test flight in 2027. It is not clear if this applies to that program. single stick version for launching a next-generation crewed spacecraft to LEO, slated for an earlier first launch in 2026, or for a full, three-core, three-stage version of lunar missions.

Helmet recently implemented 300 second duty cycle tests of the YF-100M vacuum optimized motors for the second stage of the rocket.

Top Chinese space officials, including Long Lehao ​​and Ye Peijian, said last year that the country would be able to implement the idea for a two-launch, short-duration lunar mission. until 2030.

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