Business / Industries

CASC prepares for new mission in space

By Zhao Lei (China Daily) Updated: 2015-04-09 08:47

An increasing number of Chinese companies are emerging on the world stage as they strive to establish their brands outside the country. This report, the seventh in the series, is by Zhao Lei.

China plans to open a second space laboratory and launch its sixth manned space mission next year, according to the China Academy of Space Technology.

The Tiangong-2 lab will test life support technology in space for the country's future space station. After its launch, the Shenzhou-11 spacecraft will be lifted by a Long March-2F rocket to dock with and then deliver astronauts to the space lab, said officials at the academy, a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.

In addition, the nation will launch its first cargo spacecraft, the Tianzhou-1, in 2016, which will be used to transport supplies and fuel to the Tiangong-2, Xinhua News Agency previously reported.

China will launch the core module of the space station in 2018, which will focus on engineering projects and technologies, and the whole station will be fully operational around 2022, according to official sources.

The Tiangong-1, China's first space lab, was launched in September 2011 with a designated lifespan of two years. It has successfully conducted six automatic and astronaut-controlled dockings with the nation's Shenzhou-8, Shenzhou-9 and Shenzhou-10 spacecraft.

With all of these ambitious projects proceeding well, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp has also begun to speed up the development of its next-generation of carrier rockets.

Its China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology is now finalizing the development of the Long March-5, the heaviest and most technologically difficult member of China's rocket family.

The 800-metric ton, Long March-5 is nearly 57 meters high with a diameter of 5m. It will have a maximum payload capacity of 25 tons in the low Earth orbit and 14 tons in geosynchronous transfer orbit, roughly comparable to those of the United States' Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, such as the Delta IV and Atlas V.

Luo Xiaoyang, a high-ranking official at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said the March-5 will use liquid oxygen/kerosene or liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen as propellants, which means the gigantic rocket is friendlier to the environment than previous designs.

He said the Long March-5 is due to conduct ground drills with the newly built Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in Hainan province before the end of this year, adding the rocket's first flight will take place next year.

Luo's academy is also developing the Long March-6, a "high-speed response" launch vehicle, and the Long March-7, a medium-heavy launch vehicle that will ferry the unmanned Tianzhou-1 cargo spacecraft.

The Long March rocket family, which now consists of the Long March-2, Long March-3 and Long March-4 as well as their variants, is expected to perform 20 launches this year. The latest took place on March 30 with a Long March-3C sending a new-generation satellite from the Beidou Navigation Satellite System into orbit.

The Long March rockets boast a success rate of 96 percent on all missions, and Chinese engineers have been striving to improve that reliability, said Li Tongyu, head of aerospace products at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.

"Among the 10 failures, seven happened during the first 50 launches, and the later 150 flights had only three losses," he said.

"Our success rate is a testament to the Long March family's quality and technological capability. It enabled us to keep the insurance costs for our clients' satellites low because insurers believe in our rockets," said Li.

In addition to China's own space activities, the Long March rockets have also fulfilled a host of assignments for foreign space customers.

A total of 39 Long March rockets have carried 46 satellites for foreign clients since 1985 when China announced it would begin to provide launch services to outsider agencies.

According to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, China aims to have a 10 percent share of the international satellite market, and 15 percent of all commercial launches by the end of this year.

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