China Plans To Come Up With Its Own Reusable Heavy Launcher Rocket

by | Jul 28, 2022 | News Articles, Product, Space Exploration

Just as SpaceX’s Starship is about to go for the first orbital test flights, China announces its own concept of a similarly fully reusable super-heavy launcher. 

Sustainability in space exploration is a movement aimed at transforming the space industry into one that is mindful of its activities and resourceful in its spending. In the same vein, fully reusable rockets have gained popularity in the sector with SpaceX introducing partially reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle, Falcon Heavy, and fully-reusable, super-heavy-lift launch vehicle, Starship. Now, China is also considering joining the movement to manufacture fully reusable super heavy-lift megarocket for their future projects, including the International Lunar Research Station

Despite presenting a Long March 9 model that is expendable and a variant with a reusable first stage last year, the Chinese authorities are now preparing to build a fully reusable megarocket. This fully reusable Long March 9 variant will be furnished with two stages; the first stage is to be powered by 26 clustered 200-ton-thrust methalox engines. It will be able to carry 150 tons of payload to Low Earth orbit, 65 tons to geosynchronous transfer orbit, or 50 tons to trans-lunar injection.

Screen-grab from Long’s presentation on reusable Long March 9 variant

Interestingly, the Chinese heavy-lift megarocket will run on methane-liquid oxygen, or methalox, the same fuel used by Starship, a SpaceX vehicle intended for deep space exploration and lunar missions. Moreover, Long Lehao, a veteran chief designer of the Long March rocket series, announced that the expendable launcher will be ready for use by 2035. It is noteworthy that this announcement came shortly after SpaceX’s Starship is due to go for its first orbital test flights.

Comparison of some heavy lift launch vehicles (INF News)

One may speculate that this could be a race for China to not only achieve innovation in the global space sector, but stay relevant and be comparable to its Western counterparts. SpaceNews also notes that the sudden switches in the technology used in the Chinese rockets indicates that China’s plans are somewhat in flux.