When China began to get serious about sending astronauts to the moon in the middle of the last decade, the country’s top rocket scientists began planning a massive booster to do the job.
In 2016, the country’s state-owned rocket manufacturer, China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, began designing the Long March 9 rocket. It looked like the big heavy lift NASA was developing at the time, the Space Launch System. Like NASA’s big rocket, the Long March 9 had a main stage and boosters and was designed to be fully expendable.
There were some key differences, particularly in the fuels—the Long March 9 would use kerosene instead of liquid hydrogen—but the general idea was the same. China will build a single-use, super-heavy lift rocket to send astronauts to the moon. The country aimed to launch the rocket by 2030.
But in recent years, China has begun to refine these plans, notably as SpaceX demonstrated the reusability of kerosene-powered first stages and began developing the fully reusable Starship rocket. In various presentations, Chinese officials have discussed the possibility of incorporating reusable elements into the long March 9 design.
now, This is reported by Space News, China formalized this direction. The publication cited an interview with China Central Television this week by Liu Bing, director of the general design department of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. He confirmed that plans for the all-expendable Long March 9 have been cancelled.
Rather, the current design is characterized by the termination of the network at the first stage and the absence of side amplifiers. According to Liu, the goal is to develop a large rocket with a reusable first stage capable of delivering 150 metric tons to low Earth orbit and up to 50 metric tons to the Moon. Liu said the design process remains fluid, with a number of technical issues still to be resolved.
One of those design decisions likely involves the engine. Demon recently held Hot-fire test of the YF-130 kerosene-fueled very powerful rocket engine. This engine is among the most powerful liquid fuel engines ever created and has a thrust of 1 million pounds. Long thought to be the engine of choice for March 9.
However, this engine may not be suitable for reuse, as the Falcon 9 rocket only restarts a portion of its nine engines when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. For this reason, the reusable Long March 9 design could use smaller liquid-fuel engines—perhaps based on methane as a propellant like Starship.
It is unclear what this means for the YF-100 engine. What seems certain, however, is that China is serious about its ambitions, and whatever approach it decides on will reflect 21st century technology.
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