China’s new medium-lift rocket, the Long March-7 has successfully completed its first test this weekend.
The spacecraft was launched by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) from the country’s new Wenchang spaceport.
The Long March-7 is China’s newest rocket, measuring 53m long and able to loft 13.5 tons into Low Earth Orbit.
Unlike previous rockets in the Long March series, the Long March 7 makes use of kerosene/oxygen fuel, meaning that its launches produce less toxic by-products when compared to the hypergolic fuels used by its predecessors.
Saturday’s test launch, which was by all accounts a complete success, carried a variety of payloads. Among these was a subscale model of a future Chinese manned space vehicle, used for re-entry testing, as well as a number of Cubesats.
According to Chinese state media, the Long March-7 is China’s first digitally designed rocket, designed and manufactured with ‘3D technologies’.
In the future the new rocket will be human-rated and will be used to launch astronauts and cargo to China’s Tiangong space labs, and future space launches.
“The Long March-7 launch will be of great significance as it will usher in China’s space lab mission,” said Yang Baohua, deputy manager of CASC before the rocket’s launch.
China’s space program accelerates
While the Long March-7 is China’s most powerful rocket built to-date, it is one of a trio of new high-tech rockets.
The most notable of these is the heavy-lift Long March-5 which will be comparable to the largest rockets fielded by the US and Russia. Due to be flown for the first time later this year, the Long March-5 will eventually lift China’s space station to orbit, as well as carry probes to the Moon and Mars.
The other new rocket, the Long March-6, is a smaller vehicle capable of quickly putting a large number of small satellites in orbit.
Beyond these new rockets, this weekend’s launch was the first from the newly-opened Wenchang satellite launch center. Located on the island of Hainan in the far south of China, this center is China’s first coastal facility, and thus can handle larger payloads rockets delivered by sea.