China readies new Long March CZ-8 rocket for maiden launch

Liu Zhen
·3-min read

The countdown has begun to the maiden flight of a new Chinese carrier rocket that has the potential to be reusable, cutting launch costs, according to state media reports.

A CZ-8, the latest addition to the Long March range of rockets, has been moved to the launch pad at the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the southern island of Hainan in preparation for lift-off at noon on Sunday, state broadcaster CCTV reported on Wednesday.

The launch of the CZ-8 will wrap up a busy year for China’s space engineers, who have deployed high-profile Mars and moon missions, completed the BeiDou navigation constellation and tested new spaceships, rocket vehicles and space station modules.

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The new rocket is meant to meet the demand for economical, medium-lift, high-frequency commercial missions.

It will have non-toxic propellants and take about 10 days of preparation to launch, with a capacity of at least 10 launches each year.

A future variant of the CZ-8 – the CZ-8R – will be reusable, putting it on par with the Falcon series made by American aerospace company SpaceX.

This would cut the cost of each launch and give it an edge in the commercial rocket market.

The two-stage CZ-8 combines the first stage of the CZ-7 with two YF-100 oxygen/diesel engines and third stage of the CZ-3 with two YF-75 oxygen/hydrogen engines. Plus, it has two extra propulsion boosters with two YF-100 engines.

It is designed to send a 5-tonne payload to 700km high sun-synchronous orbit or 7.6 tonnes to low-Earth orbit.

The rocket’s developer, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology under the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, has been working on a new generation of the Long March carrier rocket family to meet the rapidly growing demands of China’s space ambitions.

Since 2015, it has produced the CZ-6, CZ-11, CZ-7 and CZ-5 and some of their variants, covering a range from small and light-lift vehicles to deep space heavy payload carriers.

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Apart from CZ-8, there is also CZ-9, a super heavy lift rocket under development, which is designed to be the most powerful launch vehicle ever for China and the fourth globally.

The US and China are among the world’s front-runners in space, with the US ahead in technologies such as reusable launch systems and satellite manufacturing.

Industry observers expect this rivalry to intensify, with Washington signing in October a legal framework for behaviour in space with seven other nations – Australia, Britain, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates.

The accords allow countries or private companies to extract lunar resources and create temporary “safety zones” on the moon for their operation to “avoid harmful interference” from others.

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