Earlier this month, we got a glimpse at the rocket technology that China is developing for the next 20 years. At the International Symposium on Cooperation on near-Earth Orbit Human Spaceflight, held in Beijing on February 17 and organized by the Chinese Society of Astronautics and the IAF, CALT’s director Wang Xiaojun provided useful details
on China’s future launch technology for crewed spaceflight.
First, Wang Xiaojun presented China’s first future rocket: the Long March 5DY (aka the 921 rocket). This is a human-rated rocket using existing Chinese hardware and available in 2 versions: a plain 2-stage version carrying 14t to LEO, and a 3 stage version with 2 side-boosters (27t into LTO). While we already knew about such plans from the June 2021 presentation by Long Lehao, former chief designer of the Long March rockets, the real scoop comes from the way the Chinese want to reuse the first-stage: the actual landing will not use landing legs, but a tethered recovery system where the stage would be caught by a net and thanks to a number of hooks. Separately, the statements by Wang Xiaojun should be taken as somewhat “more official” than Long’s previous statements, given that Long has been retired for some time while Wang remains actively working with CALT.
Beyond this Long March 5DY, China has been investigating two additional concepts, the first being a Starship-like concept. The rocket would be powered by LCH4/LOX and the second stage would perform aerodynamic deceleration at various angles of attack depending on the speed, including horizontal deceleration (0° pitch angle), before performing a belly flop and landing vertically, similar to Starship. The first stage would land vertically in a more classical way. CALT having identified liquid methane as the ideal fuel for reusable rockets, methalox engines will be used. CALT’s rocket will be able to put 20t into LEO (compared to the 150t on Starship), and will be focused on cargo missions.
Finally, China’s third rocket concept for future crewed spaceflight is a two-stage vertical take-off horizontal landing rocket, dedicated to sending taikonauts to the CSS, where both stages would be able to land horizontally. This concept matches well with Chinese spaceplane under development by CASC, CASIC (Tengyun spaceplane) and other commercial companies (iSpace, Space Transportation).
Moving on – as mentioned in the Highlight, CALT’s commercial subsidiary China Rocket (中国火箭) announced launch dates
for the Jielong-3, which upon launch will be China’s largest and most powerful solid-fueled rocket. The company plans 3x Jielong-3 launches in 2022 (August, November, and December), and 2 more in H1 2023. Notably, the company has launch capacity left on all remaining 2022 rockets (300kg for the August launch, 200kg for November and December), and they have marketed the launches as being opportunities for commercial rideshare. This is but the latest example of the rush by Chinese commercial launch companies to serve the burgeoning rideshare market, with a plethora of Chinese satellite manufacturers planning to launch dozens to ~100 satellites over the course of the next few years.
Lastly, Commercial launch and missile manufacturer SpaceTrek (星途探索) tested its D140 cruise missile
on Saturday, this the second time that the company has run such a test. One of companies that is most openly working on both military and civilian technologies, SpaceTrek was founded in 2015, and, along with about 10 other commercial launch companies, is HQed in the Beijing Yizhuang Economic and Technological Development Zone.