On September 19, 2015, the Long March 6 (LM-6) space launch rocket blasted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. Built as a rapid response, light launcher, the LM-6 uses a single 120-ton thrust YF-100 liquid oxygen and kerosene rocket engine (the same booster as the heavy Long March 5’s booster rockets) as its first stage to loft a one-ton payload into low Earth orbit. The LM-6’s second stage is a YF-115 engine that also burns liquid oxygen and kerosene.
The LM-6’s maiden flight launch manifest consisted of 20 small satellites from Chinese universities and research institutes like Tsinghua University and the Harbin Institute of Technology, for purposes ranging from communications, Earth observation and atmospheric physics. Notably, one of the satellites carried an experimental ion drive, an electrical propulsion drive that would improve the efficiency of Chinese satellites and space exploration vehicles.
A Little Long March
In addition to providing China with a new light space launch capacity, the LM-6’s successful launch validates the YF-100 engine, four of which are used in the boosters for the LM-5 rocket. In terms of its security impact, the LM-6 could quickly deploy space surveillance and co-orbital anti-satellite satellites to protect spy satellites and space stations launched by the LM-5.