What is the Long March 5 rocket? Why is it one of the most important ones in the series?

A Brief overview of the Long March series

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

The Long March 5 and Long March 5B

Also known as the CZ-5, has two main variants, the main variant and the 5B variant. The first flight of the rocket series was originally planned for 2014, but it was pushed back to 2016 after the first production rockets were sent from the port of Tianjin in North China to the Wenchang Space Launch Site on Hainan Island for launch rehearsals on September 20, 2015. On or around August 16, 2016, the final construction and testing of the first CZ-5 rocket to be launched into space was finished at its Tianjin manufacturing site, and the different components of the rocket were sent to the launch location on Hainan island shortly after.

The CZ-5 series can transport up to 14 tonnes of cargo to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) or roughly 23 tonnes to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) (geosynchronous transfer orbit). It superseded the CZ-2, CZ-3, and CZ-4 series of rockets in service and added additional capabilities that the earlier Long March rocket family lacked. Originally, six CZ-5 variations were planned, but the light variants were dropped in favour of the CZ-6 and CZ-7 family launch vehicles. In 2021, it is announced that a three-core version codenamed CZ-5(DengYue) is being developed for crewed lunar expeditions.

Long March 5 and some of its important missions

  • The latest Shijian Communications satellites, Shijian 17, Shijian 19 (November 2016 and December 2019 respectively) (Long March 5)
  • The Tianwen-1 mission carrying the Mars orbiter, lander and the Zhurong rover (July 2020) (Long March 5B)
  • Chang’e 5, China’s first lunar sample return mission (November 2020) (Long March 5)
  • Tianhe, core module for the upcoming Tiangong space station (April 2021) (Long March 5B)

(Related Topics –

More about the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program here.

More about the China’s Space Station Tiangong here.

More about the China’s Mars Exploration Program Tianwen-1 here.)

What are the Upcoming missions using the Long March 5 rockets?

  • Wentian and Mengtian, the experimental modules for the Chinese space station Tiangong, are set to be launched very soon this year.(tentative dates – Wentian by May-June 2022, Mengtian by August-September 2022)(Long March 5B)
  • The Chang’e 6 Lunar sample return mission planned for 2024(Long March 5)
  • The Chang’e 7 Lunar Antarctic exploration and reconnaissance mission planned for 2024 (Long March 5)
  • The Xuntian space telescope, that will co-orbit the space station Tiangong once completed, to be launched in 2024(Long March 5B)
  • The Chang’e 8 Scientific exploration to verify the construction of lunar scientific research base through international cooperation, to be launched in 2027 (Long March 5)
  • A speculated Jupiter orbiter and interplanetary flyby probe, to be launched in 2029 (Long March 5)

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

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