While U.S. legislators continue to argue the fate of America's heavy-lift rocket ambitions, China is setting the bar high by looking into launch vehicle designs that could generate a thrust of more than 660 tons, increasing by orders of magnitude the nation's ability to launch heavy payloads into space.
China is already developing a heavy-lift rocket expected to make its preliminary test flights in 2014, the Long March-5. The LM-5 would boast 132 tons of thrust, plenty for delivering cargo to the space station or reaching geostationary transfer orbit where most communications satellites are launched.
But a 600-plus ton rocket engine would be suitable for missions beyond LEO, perhaps to the moon or beyond. China has already expressed an interest in sending an unmanned mission to the moon via the LM-5, but the new experimental rocket is more akin to the Saturn-V that carried U.S. astronauts moonward decades ago.
To develop the necessary thrust, the rocket's initial stage would rely on five engines likely with four expendable boosters arranged around a central stage. The LM-5 employs a similar design, though the new rocket would have to be far, far larger to reach its 660-ton thrust ambition.
As for the LM-5, it's on track for a full-sized prototype in 2012, test firings in 2013, and initial test launches a year later. When in service it will carry up to 27.5 ton payloads to the ISS and 15 ton payloads into higher satellite orbits.
Now that is one big rocket...
Very nice to see something like this. Nowadays, it seems that thought of approaching the moon is scary enough. I am glad that the Chinese are at least considering sendING something out there. As society becomes far more comfortable in this bubble of safety that we live in, we lose out on the oppurtunities to explore the unknown and develop some creative ideas.
I didn't think China was involved in the ISS? That's interesting, I guess that's a good thing. Even though it's already built now so they'd just be benefiting from a decade of work by the other countries.
I was talking to someone in the industry who said Heavy Lift tech is unnecessary for going beyond LEO, that it'd be much more economical to send smaller rockets, then refuel them in orbit as fuel weight normally account for a very small portion of the cost of each launch. If this was true, I think they should be doing a better job of getting this fact out there so we can put our money into that instead of another HLV.
China's Long March 5 first stage has a published proposed thrust spec ranging from 1.34 MN to 5.84 MN, depending on configuration. This works out to about 300,000 to 1,300,000 lbs of thrust (i.e.: about 136 to 590 metric tons of thrust). This data aligns, sort of, with the article. However the low end, 136 metric tons of thrust, is only 1/3 the thrust of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket's first stage that successfully launched to orbit this past June. At the upper end, the LM-5's heaviest configuration is only 30% more thrust than that same SpaceX Falcon 9.
By this measure, LM-5 will be a small to medium lift rocket.
At 660 metric tons of thrust, China's proposed "New Heavy Lift Rocket" works out to about 1,455,300 lbs of thrust. This is less than half the thrust of the proposed SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy first stage. While it would be a big rocket, it isn't close to the Saturn V in thrust or to any of the other proposed US heavy lift rockets. It should still be called a "medium lift rocket".
This article casually assumes that China will be docking with and delivering cargo to the International Space Station. China does not have docking privileges at this facility AND the current US government has categorically stated that China does not have docking privileges and are not expected to get such privileges in the near future.
Of course, politics changes, and by 2015 China might be on the ISS invited guest list.
Is it possible that this article was written by China's propaganda machine and just pasted into PopSci?
Since the Chinese with a top down political system could care less about greenies, a modification of Freeman Dyson's Orion scheme would give them all the lift capacity for which you ever envision a need.
Drill a 2 mile hole in a salt formation. Put a small nuke at the bottom in a water tank, put a thick steel plate on top of the tank with a automated payload capsule on top. Light the nuke and let er rip. When the projectile exits slam the door shut and redirect the radioactive steam back underground. Radiation leaks - a lot less than the daily radioactive output of one of their coal plants.
3000 tons at $10 a lb straight to the moon. Seal the hole and drill a new one for the next load.
Great for compressable are ice, steel,frozen food,fuel tanks, rocket fuel, circuit boards, nuclear fuel, copper wire and a thousand other commodities needed in space.
Humans and flower petals will have to be launched another way.
With the cargo capacity available, a simple very efficient spacebased transport could use the nuclear engines from stolen NASA Nerva designs since we aren't allowed to use them.
I am quite familiar with the orion concept, and if I recall correctly it'd take a lot more than 1 nuke to even reach orbit. That said, though it is a terrible idea for ground launch (barring clean nuclear weapon capabilities- if there is such a thing), it is the best idea we've ever had for interstellar travel. An orion 'star arc' with a good supply of nukes could make it to alpha centauri in something like 50 years, cut down to 10 if antimatter explosives were available.
For more info check out
The USA's Saturn V moon rocket produced 7,648,000 lbs. or 3,812 tons of thrust at liftoff. The US Space Shuttle produces over 3,400 tons of thrust at liftoff. 660 tons is just a little more than 17% of the thrust from a Saturn V and a little more than 19% of the thrust produced by the space shuttle. Calling a rocket with a mere 660 tons of thrust a "heavy lift rocket" is just ludicrous. It is a "medium lift rocket" at best.
If the US did invite the Chinese in ISS early on, I doubt the Russians can monopolize in supplying the ISS during the Columbia disaster.
Why when they bring up Chinese docking privileges I envision a take out menu floating in zero gravity?
We are under a misapprehension here; Long March 5 will lift 25 tons; this will be achieved with a first stage of 2 x YF 50 tons engines + 4 x YF 100 120 tons engines- ie a total thrust of 580 tons .
The 660 tons engines would not improve China's lifting power significantly unless it is to be clustered . The Saturn 5 F1 engines of 1.5 million lbs thrust were grouped in a cluster of 5 units.
5 x 660 tons engines ( core + 4 boosters) gives a thrust of 3,300 tons - about the same order as a Saturn 5)
The new Wenshang space port has gantries capable of handling 5 and 10 metre diameter rockets( eg Long March 5 and the proposed Saturn 5 class rocket) Saturn 5's first stage had a diameter of 10 metres...
Remember , a first stage + boosters often has more than one engine. If this engine is brought to flight, China WILL go to the Moon. When is the USA going back ?