China is building a huge reusable rocket

(ORDO NEWS) — China has been developing the Long March 9 (CZ-9) three-stage rocket, which is a super-heavy variant of the Long March family, for many years.

This launch vehicle will reportedly be capable of transporting up to 165 tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) and 59.5 tons for translunar injection.

On March 2, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) announced (via Chinese social media platform Weixin) that it has completed construction of the first fuel tank for the CZ-9.

The news was accompanied by photographs showing the finished tank and the many components that went into making it.

The fuel tank has a diameter of 10 meters, making it the largest developed by China to date. This is slightly larger than the main fuel tanks used by SpaceX‘s Starship (9m) and NASA‘s Space Launch System (8.4m).

It is also twice the size of the first stage of the Long March 5 rocket currently used by the China National Space Agency (CNSA).

This project lays the foundation for the design and development of high-yield launch vehicles.

China becomes the third country (after Russia and the US) to implement the development of an extra-large storage tank.

According to researcher Hu Zhenggen of the Beijing Institute of Aerospace Propulsion and deputy chief designer of the CZ-9 at the China Rocket Academy, the problem was not doubling the fuel tank.

In terms of design, the exponential volume of a 10-meter tank means that it must be much stronger to hold several times more fuel, yet thin and light enough to minimize the overall launch weight of the rocket.

The development of the CZ-9 and its components also highlights China’s advances in advanced materials and high-tech manufacturing.

This includes friction stir welding (FSW), in which a rotating tool generates heat to join sections of material without melting them.

Other challenges were to prepare large diameter sheets and components with the precise shape and properties needed to balance strength with light weight.

The development process, including materials, design, component formation, assembly and welding, and evaluation, took six years and was carried out by two dozen Chinese research teams.

The Long March-9 was originally designed as a disposable design, but China has said it now plans to switch to a reusable design.

Once the craft is ready for its maiden flight (around 2030), the CZ-9 will be used to build China’s proposed International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), a joint project with Roscosmos to compete with NASA’s Artemis program.

The architecture of the Chinese mission provides for the creation of infrastructure on the surface of the moon, including a long-term base, vehicles, a research station and a ground support facility.

This development is part of China’s larger goal of becoming a space power. These efforts include the development of a new crewed spacecraft, which is expected to make its first launch by 2027.

A smaller version of the spacecraft will carry the taikonauts to low Earth orbit (LEO) and rendezvous with the Tiangong space station, while a larger version will land the crews on the lunar surface.


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