The China National Space Administration (CNSA) uses the Long March family rockets, which are a series of expendable launch system rockets, for almost all of its payload delivery and missions to space, of which the responsibility for the development and design falls to China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). The rockets are named after the “Long March” of the Chinese Red Army during the Chinese Civil War 1934–35. They are also called the Changzheng series, labeled “CZ”
Long March carrier rockets have been used in the vast majority of China’s space launches during the past 51 years, since the maiden flight of Long March-1 in 1970.
First Flight of Long March rockets – Long March 1 – 4
Also known as the Changzheng-1 (CZ-1), was the first rocket ever in China’s Long March series. It was a test satellite carrier, launched in April 1970. Based on the conducted tests, Long March-2 and 3 had 265 launches during the timeframe of 1974 – 2014, of which only around 12 were failures or partial failures. Each series had multiple variants, whereby each upgraded variant had different propulsion systems and payload capacity limits. Some variants of the Long March 3 series are still used to date.
New generation of Long March rockets
The Long March 5, which took its first run in 2016, was the upgraded version of the rocket series, derived from the old CZ-4 in service, and became one of the best in class at that time to successfully deliver heavier payloads to GTO (geosynchronous transfer orbit). The Long March 5, 6, and 7 were developed almost simultaneously. The Long March 5B is currently the most powerful heavy-duty rocket in China’s arsenal and has been one of the series’ most reliable versions of the carrier, having played part in launching some of the most significant recent Chinese space missions.
What are some important missions accomplished using the Long March rockets?
Some of the most notable missions of the Long March series rockets are:-
- Long March 2F
- Shenzhou 5, China’s first crewed spaceflight attempt
- Shenzhou 6-15, all crewed missions with 2-3 astronauts
- Tiangong 1 & 2, first test space station and temporary experimental space laboratory
- Long March 3B
- Multiple BeiDou Navigation system satellites
- Multiple Shijian and ChinaSat Communications satellite variants
- Chang’e 3, China’s first lunar rover
- Chang’e 4, China’s first soft landing on the far side of the moon
- Long March 5B
- Latest Shijian Communications satellites
- Tianwen-1 mission carrying the Mars orbiter, lander, rover
- Chang’e 5, China’s first lunar sample return mission
- Tianhe, core module for the upcoming Tiangong space station
- Long March 7
- Tianzhou 1, 2, & 3, unscrewed robotic cargo spacecrafts for the Tiangong space station
- Crewed capsules to the Tiangong space station’s core module Tianhe
(Related Topics –
Learn more about the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program here.
Learn more about China’s Space Station Tiangong here.
Learn more about China’s Mars Exploration Program Tianwen-1 here.
China’s future plans for the Long March series
The next upcoming launch planned for the series is of the Long March 8, for which the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), its maker, has been recently conducted various tests. The rocket will carry a payload of 22 satellites for various Chinese commercial space companies, including some optical and radar Earth observational satellites. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT,) will also continue work on the development of two types of heavy-duty carrier rockets that are even more powerful than the currently strongest model of Long March-5 to support future crewed flight mission to the moon and to send large probes to deep space. Future plans of the Long March 5 series include:
- Wentian and Mengtian, Space laboratories part of the experimental space modules for the upcoming Tiangong space station
- Chang’e 6 Lunar sample return mission and Chang’e 7 Lunar exploration mission
- Chang’e 8 Lunar scientific research expedition to conduct reconnaissance for the planned International Lunar Research Base
- Xuntian space telescope which will orbit the Tiangong space station
- A Speculated Jupiter orbiter mission in works
You can learn more about China’s plans for the future in space here.
learn more about Tianhe, the core model.
China’s National Space Agency (CNSA) has stated that it hopes to place people on the moon by 2030 and establish a joint lunar facility with Russia by 2035. The CNSA also intends to gather samples from Mars and expand its exploration to other planets and beyond into space. With so many ambitious missions planned, China is surely set on becoming a major power in space in the next decade or two.