China’s new carrier rocket Long March 8 made its first flight on Tuesday at 12:37 p.m. (Beijing Time) from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, sending five satellites into planned orbit, according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).
The Long March-8 rocket has a total length of 50.3 meters, weighing 356 tonnes in takeoff mass. It can carry a payload of 4.5 tonnes to a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 700 km. It is the first medium-lift rocket that can launch into the Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) and geosynchronous transfer orbits (GTO) while carrying 3 tonnes to 4.5 tonnes, according to CNSA.
Aiming to develop a reusable rocket in the long term, Long March 8’s future launches are expected to be vertical takeoff and vertical landing (VTVL), which allows the rocket to be used for more than one launch to reduce mission costs and launch cycles. The VTVL technology is expected to be put into use in 2025 according to Wu Yansheng, a senior manager of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.
“The launch cycle of the future Long March-8 rocket will be reduced to 10 days,” said Duan Baocheng, deputy commander of the Long March-8 rocket.
Following the country’s first independent interplanetary mission, a test mission for space station launches, and a lunar sample return, the Long March 8 launch may be China’s last act in space exploration by the end of 2020.
The Long March 8 was developed and built by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), a subsidiary of CASC. Like other new-generation Long March 5, 6, 7 rockets, the Long March 8 is designed to replace and upgrade China’s aging hypergolic Long March 2 and 3 families.