China aims for commercial race with at least 20 Long March-8 rocket launches a year

Kristin Huang
·3-min read

China will streamline assembly of its Long March-8 rocket and aim to make more than 20 launches a year, according to the programme’s chief officer.

Commander-in-chief Xiao Yun said on an official government WeChat account that China’s goal was to launch rockets as simply and quickly as possible. His remarks were published on Tuesday, hours after the new rocket’s maiden launch from the southern island of Hainan.

The short preparation time, high launch frequency and planned future reusability would help reduce costs and create a competitive commercial launching service.

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There would also be military benefits. A shortened preparation time would allow for the speedy launch of replacement satellites if the country’s communications or navigational network in space was damaged or came under attack.

“Our goal is to launch the rocket as quickly as possible, even a one-click launch … We plan to put the assembly and production together in Hainan or some other place to omit the test, recheck and transport steps,” Xiao said.

“In the future, we want to simplify the procedure to improve efficiency so that a rocket launch mission can be completed by about 40 people in seven to 10 days.”

Xiao said China would make at least 20 launches a year, depending on the production capabilities for the Long March-8. “We are confident that we can achieve this goal.”

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China has conducted 149 rocket launches over the past five years, China News Service reported earlier this month.

Of those, 39 were in 2018 and 34 last year, making China the world’s most prolific rocket-launching country, according to Our Space, a WeChat account affiliated to state media.

“An additional 20 launches a year will be a big task for China,” said a Beijing-based space scientist who asked not to be named.

According to China Space News, the first stage of the Long March-8 is based on the Long March-7, while the second stage is based on the Long March-3. Engineers opted for this configuration after testing hundreds of others.

Using adapted boosters can significantly reduce research time and costs, Chinese media reported.

The new rocket – launched five days after the return from the moon of China’s Chang’e 5 spacecraft – is intended to meet demand for more economical and frequent medium-load commercial missions. China’s space programme is state-run, but provides launching services for other countries and companies.

A future variant of the rocket – the Long March-8R – will be reusable, with its first-stage and booster engines expected to be retrieved through vertical landing. According to state broadcaster CCTV, the reusable parts will land on a floating platform.

Once achieved, the reusable rocket could be on a par with the Falcon series made by US aerospace company SpaceX.

Wu Yitian, the Long March-8’s deputy chief engineer, told CCTV on Tuesday that the new rocket was cost-effective, and China’s goal was to earn a place in the space launch market both at home and abroad.

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