Why is Long March 3 series regarded as China’s staple satellite launch vehicle?

The Long March family of rockets is China’s flagship launch vehicle series that is used to launch most of China’s space missions and satellite launches. It is used by the government run CNSA (China National Space Administration) and 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 3 series is part of Long March Rocket Family.

(More on China’s Long March series rockets here.)

The Long March 3, 3A, 3B and 3C variants, and some of their important missions

Also known as the CZ-3, has three main variants, the 3B/E variant being the most important one.  All the 3rd generation Long March rocket launches have been from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center located in Zeyuan Town northwest of Xichang, Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in Sichuan.

Long March 3 Series

was a three-stage rocket that was primarily utilised to launch DFH-2 communication satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbits. It was eventually superseded by the more powerful Long March 3A, which had a better third stage. It had 13 total launches with 11 successes.

Long March 3A

Long March 3A is a three-stage rocket that is most commonly used to deploy communications and BeiDou navigation satellites into geosynchronous transfer orbits. Other than the BeiDou, it has also launched various Fengyun weather satellites and Compass IGSO satellites too. It has a Payload capacity of 2600 kilograms to GTO. The Long March 3B, which is a larger variant with four liquid booster rockets and is still in service, is based on it. It had 27 total launches with 27 successes.

Long March 3B

Long March 3B is a three-stage rocket with four strap-on liquid rocket boosters. It is the second most powerful member of the Long March rocket family after the Long March 5 and the heaviest of the Long March 3 rocket family, and it is primarily used to place communications satellites into geosynchronous orbits. It has a Payload capacity of 5100 kilograms to GTO. It had 12 total launches with 10 successes.

Long March 3B/E

Long March 3B/E also known as the 3B/G2, is an improved derivative of the Long March 3B with a larger first stage and boosters, allowing it to carry more GTO payload. It has a Payload capacity of 5500 kilograms to GTO. This particular sub-variant of the Long March 3 is China’s most successful and most used satellite launch vehicle with most no. of launches. It had 71 total launches with 63 successes. Some major launches of the 3B/E variant include the Compass-M tracking satellites, numerous Beidou-3 navigation satellites, Gaofen Earth imaging satellites and various television satellite systems like ApstarSats, ChinaSat, and Tianlian. The 3B/E was also used to launch various international satellites too, including, NigComSat for Nigeria, Venesat for Venezuela, Paksat for Pakistan, Alcomsat for Algeria, and many others.

The Long March 3B/E was also used to launch the Chang’e 3 and Chang’e 4, two of China’s most important Lunar missions, successfully. The latest flight of the 3B/E was in December 2021, launching a satellite TJSW-9.

Long March 3C

Long March 3C is a three-stage rocket with two strap-on liquid rocket boosters that is a descendant of the Long March 3B. It was created to bridge the gap between the Long March 3A and 3B in terms of cargo capacity. It has been used mostly to launch various Compass-G series satellites, and has a Payload capacity of 3800 kilograms to GTO. It had 18 total launches with 18 successes, with no failures up until now.

 (Related Topics –

More about the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program here.

More about the Long March 5 series here.

More about the Long March 9 rocket here.

More about China’s new microwave attack protection device for satellites here.

More about China’s recent satellite maneuver using Shijian-21 here.)

What are the Upcoming missions using the Long March 3 series rockets?

China, in 2022, aims to beat its own previous year record of most satellite launches, and has planned around 55 space launches in the year. Even though the Long March 3 series seems to be outdated in comparison with the newer Long March 5  or 8 or any other recent variants, the CZ-3 still remains a reliable and trusted launch vehicle China can deploy at any moment, serving as a dependable rocket vehicle which can be still used for lesser important missions and satellite launches, or as backup in case of newer versions failing to meet standards.

China is investing heavily into further development of its Long March series by introducing reusable variants of the rockets, and reduce costs and make spaceflight in future cheaper and more accessible, and helping China attain its spaceflight goals for this year and the upcoming ones. 

(More of China’s plans for the future in space here.)

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