China plans to launch at least three rockets at sea this year

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China is looking to take full advantage of its new launch capability from its maritime platforms with at least three of these missions scheduled for 2021.

China, which presents itself today as a first-rate space power, currently has four launch bases spread over its immense territory, including that of Jiuquan, the first and the most important of these sites. However, the country also intends to rely on maritime platforms in the future.

Taking off at sea has several advantages

These launches, carried out directly at sea, have several advantages. The flexible positioning of the site, on the one hand, allows choose a trajectory that does not fly over other countries. This approach also ensures that the first stages of the rockets concerned (boosters) do not fall back to the ground, threatening the inhabited areas in the process, as has been the case several times in China. Finally, a mobile maritime platform allows launches closest to the equator where the Earth’s rotational speed is highest, which implies a reduction in fuel requirements to reach space.

China has already operated in this way. The first time was in June 2019. On this occasion, the Chinese Academy of Solid Propulsion Technology (AASPT) released seven satellites into space with a Long March 11 light launch vehicle that took off from a launch pad. floating in the Yellow Sea. A second sea launch (still with a Long March 11) was then attempted and succeeded in September 2020, this time allowing the release of nine satellites in space.

A Long March 11 rocket takes off at sea. Credits: SCI News

At least three launches planned at sea

After building new facilities on the coast of Shandong Province in eastern China, the country is now looking to boost these launches at sea. Li Tongyu of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT ) and Commander-in-Chief of the Long March 11, the country is planning three to four such launches this year.

We overcame all the technical issues regarding the different launch modes including land and sea launches“, does he have added. “We will gradually apply these technologies in the future to ensure that launches are safe, reliable and cost effective.“.

As you can see below, these missions involve “cold” launches, like some missiles. In other words, the rocket is first ejected from its tube by a gas generator, before igniting its engines. The launch is also remotely controlled from a nearby ship so as to keep mission personnel safe.

Also according to Li Tongyu, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) would also develop a new Long March 11 more powerful. This variant will use a larger and wider first stage (2.65 m in diameter) and will be able to send up to 1,500 kg of payload at an altitude of 700 km (sun-synchronous orbit). Its first launch is scheduled for 2022.

Finally, remember that the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the main Chinese space entrepreneur, is planning more than forty launches this year. Among these notable missions will include the launch of a first module of the future Chinese space station, but also manned flights.

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