Friday, October 07, 2022

China is developing ‘liquid-propellant rocket’ to launch from the sea; How does this boost Beijing’s space capabilities?

Chinese state-owned and private businesses are looking to develop the capability to launch liquid-fueled rockets from marine platforms to expand the country’s launch options. The Eurasian Times had previously reported on China’s ambitious plan and decoded its ‘Blue Book’.

China’s ‘Blue Book’ Revealed! Seaborne Rockets to boost Dragon’s ambitious plan to send 140 spacecraft in 2022

Private companies such as state-owned China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) and Orionspace are building larger liquid-propellant Gravity series rockets and modifying the Long March 8 launcher for sea launches.

Beijing has already shown that it can launch the Long March 11 solid rocket from an ocean platform. The Chinese space agency is setting up a new spaceport in the eastern coastal province of Shandong, close to Haiyang, to handle these launches.

The report said Haiyang port is attracting a diverse range of space sector firms and nurturing an industry chain. A 162.5-metre-long, 40-metre-wide “new type of rocket launching vessel” is currently under construction and is projected to perform the first launch in 2022 using the refurbished ships.

Additionally, the sector is attracting massive investments from private businesses. With a planned investment of $119 million, liquid rocket component startup RSpace is currently building a 230-acre manufacturing and testing plant for storage tanks and liquid rocket body structures in Haiyang.

Liftoff of the Long March 11 from a mobile platform in the Yellow Sea on June 5, 2019.  Credits: China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT).
Liftoff of the Long March 11 from a mobile platform in the Yellow Sea on June 5, 2019. Credits: China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT).

The project is a significant effort for Shandong and is supported by the city and province. The development shows a focused effort to promote liquid sea launches as well.

Recently, the company tested the insulation and thermal performance of 3.35 m diameter propellant tanks.

One potential customer is Orispace, which was established in late 2020. In 2022, the company raised $47 million and $59.9 million in pre-A and A-series funding rounds.

Currently, it plans to launch its Gravity-1 solid rocket in mid-2023. This will be followed by the Gravity-2 kerosene-liquid oxygen launcher.

Galactic Energy, a private launcher service provider, is looking to launch its third Ceres-1 solid rocket within the next few months. By the end of the year, this vehicle can be tested for sea launch.

CALT, owned by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., one of China’s top state-owned launch vehicle designers and manufacturers, is now looking at making the Long March 8 kerosene-liquid oxygen launcher suitable for sea launches.

China Long March 11
File Image: China Long March 11

China’s growing maritime launch capabilities

China on 30 April launched China set a new distance record for offshore launches, launching five satellites into orbit on a rocket lifted from an ocean platform. The launch was China’s farthest offshore liftoff ever.

In addition, it was Beijing’s third sea launch since 2020, when it launched the Long March 11 boosters from its De Bo 3 platform.

according To translate statements from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation officials, the country plans to use the Long March 11 to launch three sea-based missions in addition to its traditional land-based missions in 2022.

With the development of maritime launch technology, China will be able to launch medium and large satellites and constellations “both on land and at sea”, especially in low-inclination low-Earth orbits, the rapidly developing space industry. while maintaining its competitiveness.

A 2021 paper published in the Chinese Journal of Aeronautics examines the potential for a reusable Long March 8 sea launch. paper describes The Prospective Launcher is “modified for the commercial market, as a low-cost, highly reliable and easy-to-use vehicle, better suited for maritime launches.”

The authors note that more research is needed into the launch site’s safety controls and drop zones for expended rocket stages, but also point out that there are fewer restrictions for at-sea launch and reusable launcher retrieval.

China is developing 'liquid-propellant rocket' to launch from the sea; How does this boost Beijing's space capabilities?
A Long March 11 rocket climbs off a platform in the Yellow Sea. credit: Xinhua

In the case of China, sea-launching capabilities could reduce threats to the country’s civilian population. Since three out of four of China national launch facilities Deep inland, rocket stages often endanger populated areas when they land on land instead of at sea. Evacuating areas within the rocket stage drop zone increases launch expense.

Meanwhile, a new launch complex for commercial launches is currently being developed at the Wenchang Spaceport on Hainan Island, which could someday host a sea launch.

In recent years, China’s launch rate has increased rapidly. In 2015, China made 19 launches, all using Long March rockets. In 2021, the nation launched 55 rockets, including private commercial missions.

To help meet the growing demand for launches, China developed Haiyang for sea launch and decided to expand the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert to facilitate solid and liquid commercial rockets.

Centers for commercial launch have also been developed in Wenchang and Ningbo.

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