China may move to a fully reusable super-heavy launcher after Starship

(ORDO NEWS) — Chinese launch vehicle manufacturers appear to be developing a fully reusable version of the Long March 9 super-heavy rocket needed for future mega projects.

The emergence of plans to create new reusable methane and liquid oxygen launch vehicles, which should be ready by 2035, suggests that China is about to make significant changes to its space transportation plans.

Last year, the Chinese government gave the go-ahead to continue development of a super-heavy launch vehicle known as the Long March 9. The launch vehicle is scheduled to be operational by 2030 to meet China’s mega-projects, including the International Lunar Research Station.

The giant rocket will consist of three stages and four side boosters, with the first stage and boosters using a fuel mixture of kerosene and liquid oxygen.

However, a new concept for a fully reusable two-stage launch vehicle was presented in a recent public lecture by Long Lehao, chief designer of the Long March rocket series.

The first stage of the launch vehicle with a diameter of 10.6 meters will be driven by 26 grouped methane-oxygen engines with a capacity of 200 tons. It will be able to launch 150 tons of payload into low Earth orbit, 65 tons into geosynchronous orbit or 50 tons into lunar orbit.

Long, a senior official who frequently provides updates on China’s space activities, said the new launch vehicles should be ready by 2035 and are likely being developed in parallel with the expendable version.

The largest version, apparently including the third stage, will be 110 meters long and have a take-off weight of 4122 tons.

Evolution of the Long March 9

Although various figures have been released, the original Long March 9 is expected to be about 103 meters long, have a core 10 meters in diameter, have a take-off mass of 4,140 tons, and be capable of lifting 140 tons into low Earth orbit or 50 tons into translunar.

Twin nozzle 500 ton kerosene and liquid oxygen engines (YF-130) will drive the first stage and boosters, 220 ton liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen engines with a staged combustion cycle (YF-90) for the second stage, both cases, significant progress has already been made. Vacuum-optimized motors will drive the third stage.

The reusable first stage variant introduced in 2021 will move to the first stage with 16 clustered 360-ton engines and no side boosters. 120-ton engines will be used for the second and third stages.

The largest variant of the Long March 9 in Long’s new lecture with a fully reusable concept will be 10.6 meters in diameter, 110 meters long and have a takeoff weight of 4,122 tons, in line with the capabilities of early plans.

A more cost-effective reusable version of the Long March 9 could be ready to support the proposed solar energy space program in geostationary orbit.

China is also developing a three-stage heavy rocket capable of sending Chinese astronauts to the moon. A two-stage low Earth orbit version could make its first flight in 2026.

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