China just successfully launched its new medium lift Long March 8 rocket for the first time on Tuesday. Eventually, it is also possible that these launchers will be reusable.
Long March 8 has officially entered the list of Chinese launchers in operation. The rocket lifted off from the launch site in Wenchang, southern China, at 12:37 p.m. local time on Tuesday, December 22, according to state media. Objective: to release five test satellites into orbits synchronous with the Sun. This launch had been delayed for two days due to weather conditions.
A partially reusable rocket
The Long March 8 incorporates the new generation of rockets aimed at replacing the aging Long March 2, 3 and 4 launchers developed at the start of the Chinese space program. These new rockets started flying in 2015.
The launcher is divided into two stages accompanied by two solid rocket boosters. Note that all the components of this rocket are actually already implemented by other Chinese launchers. The two booster thrusters, for example, are based on the stages of the Long March 11 light launcher, while the second stage H-18 is similar to that of the Long March 3A launcher.
The first stage is also the same as that of the Long March 7. However, the latter has been slightly modified in order to allow its reuse in the future with back-up thrusters (like SpaceX with its Falcon 9). The two rocket engines burning a semi-cryogenic mixture of kerosene and liquid oxygen were also modified to allow maneuvering on the return to Earth. Finally, airbrakes and a landing gear were also added to the structure.
Note that for this specific flight, the launcher obviously did not return to Earth. On the other hand, this is indeed the goal for the future.
Finally, this launcher, 50.3 meters high, will be capable of delivering 7.6 tonnes of payload in low orbit, 4.5 tonnes in sun-synchronous orbit and 2.5 tonnes in geostationary transfer orbit.
“The Long March 8 rocket is designed for the international commercial space launch market and is expected to fill a gap in the launch capabilities of low and medium orbit satellites,” said Chinese state media provider CGTN. “A future variant of the Long Marche 8 will be reusable, thus considerably reducing costs and launch cycles”. With this booster, China is counting on a launch capacity every ten days.