China’s space program has taken another step forward this week with a final test of the new high-tech engines destined for the Long March-5 rocket.
The Long March-5 is China’s next generation heavy launch vehicle designed to lift much larger masses into orbit.
A series of successful tests were carried out on the ground, utilising non-toxic and non-polluting liquefied propellant.
This final ground test of the rocket’s engines sets the stage for the imminent testing of the entire rocket vehicle, slated to begin in 2016.
Once complete, the Long March-5 will have the ability to lift large masses to both Low Earth Orbit (LEO) as well as Geostationary Orbit.
The fully assembled rocket will have a diameter of 5 meters, and will stand as high as a 20 story building, according to reports in Chinese state media.
“The capacity of the Long March 5 is twice the current capacity. It can reach 25 tons to low earth orbit or 14 tons to geostationary transfer orbit,” said Lou Luliang, an associate engineer of Long March 5.
Similar to other heavy launch craft in development globally, China is hoping that its new rocket will be able to lift mass to orbit significantly more cost effectively than pre-existing rockets.
“Our objective for the new carrier rocket is to reduce 20 to 30% of the cost when sending spacecraft into outer space,” explained Yang Hujun, another associate engineer of Long March 5.
Chinese lunar ambitions
While the Chinese Government has only released the rocket’s payload capacity to LEO, and Geostationary Orbit, it is clear that China is looking to utilise the Long March-5 to reach destinations further afield.
Among these, the primary target is the Moon, for which China has previously announced an aggressive exploration strategy as part of its Chang’e program.
The next mission in this program, Chang’e 5, is slated for a 2017 launch atop of a Long March-5 rocket.
This mission will attempt a soft landing on the Moon, and an ambitious return of 2kg of lunar regolith back to Earth.
These missions will then set the scene for a likely Chinese attempt to land astronauts on the Moon in the late 2020s.