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China Inaugurates New Space Launch Centre with New Long March -7 Series Rocket

Sanjay Kumar writes: On 25 June 2016, China inaugurated a new space launch centre at Wenchang on Hainan Island; with the successful lift-off of its new, most powerful launch vehicle – Long March 7 (also referred as CZ-7) rocket.

Sanjay Kumar writes: On 25 June 2016, China inaugurated a new space launch centre at Wenchang on Hainan Island; with the successful lift-off of its new, most powerful launch vehicle – Long March 7 (also referred as CZ-7) rocket. The lift-off marked the grand opening of first sea-side launch base. The construction of the Wenchang satellite launch centre was started in 2009 and completed in November 2014. Wenchang is China’s fourth space launch centre and is equipped with two launch pads for Long March 5 and Long March 7, each with its own assembly building for the vertical stacking of rockets.

Wenchang is located at 19 degrees north latitude, closer to the equator than any other site in China. This allows rockets to take advantage of Earth’s spin rate and facilitates launch of heavier satellites into space, especially communication payloads for geostationary orbit. Also the debris from the launch falls into the ocean instead of land. The rockets launched from Wenchang will be able to carry increased payload by almost 300 kg, which would translate to 7.4 percent more than from any of the other three centres. This would entail saving of approximately 6 million US dollars on every launch.

The other three sites are at Jiuquan in the Gobi Desert; Xichang, near Chengdu; and Taiyuan, south of Beijing. Wenchang is located just 800 m inside on the northeast coast of Hainan Island, which facilitates transportation of large spacecraft componentsfrom Tanjin production plant by sea, thus facilitating the use of larger launch vehicles. China’s other launch bases are in land-locked regions, limiting transportation options to road and rail. This limited size of rocket stages due to curvature of rail lines and the width of train tunnels.

Therefore, it was crucial for China to remove these size limitations on Chinese spacecraft because new, modernized family of Chinese launchers are much wider than older ones. The new series is essential to Chinese space ambitions to obtain the lift necessary for interplanetary flights and establish large, 60-ton permanent Space Station by 2022.

China has plans to use Wenchang for launches of Long March 7 and the Long March 5 for heavier missions, which is expected to makes its debut later this year. The Long March-7 is a medium-sized, two-stage rocket that can carry up to 13.5 tonnes to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). This will become the main carrier for China’s future space missions. It uses kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuel, rather than the highly toxic propellant which uses hydrazine and dinitrogen tetroxide, which are highly toxic and corrosive; thus making it more environment friendly and less expensive.

The Saturday launch of Long March 7 included a scaled prototype of China’s Next Generation Crew Vehicle designed for China’s manned space programme, which returned to earth on Sunday (26 June) and was successfully recovered from Jiuquan near Gobi Desert. This mission primarily focused on the re-entry profile and heat shield performance of the Crew Vehicle to ensure safe landing of future crews.

China had launched its first manned spaceflight in 2003 and its first space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011. Two crews visited it in 2012 and 2013. As a step towards assembling its Space Station, China will put the Tiangong-2 space lab into orbit by September end and then Shenzhou-11 spacecraft will carry two Taikonauts to dock with Tiangong-2 in November 2016. In April 2017, China’s first cargo ship    Tianzhou-1, will be sent to dock with Tiangong-2 in the final mission.

China’s new Long March 7 and Long March 5 rockets rely on the concept of simplification through commonality, sharing a number of components and manufacturing technologies to streamline the production process in order to permit a large number of flights.The Long March 7 rocket is expected to become a workhorse in China’s future space endeavours as it is suitable for a number of different applications to include launching heavy craft into LEO and lifting medium-sized communications satellites into GTO. It is envisioned that Long March -7 will become the primary launch vehicle to lift cargo craft into orbit to resupply China’s upcoming space station and eventually take over the crewed space program once the next-generation crewed spacecraft is ready for flight.

China views space as critical to its development of what they call an “Informationized Force.” And, Chinese war philosophy states that whosoever controls space controls the earth.In doing so, China has started looking towards “Space” as a game changer and a force multiplier, which needs to be dominated and denied to adversaries’ in future passive or active confrontations. The new launch site will help China enhance its space capabilities and further its strategic goals.

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