On the 200th launch of a Long March rocket on Dec 7, China put a satellite into orbit that it had jointly developed with Brazil.
The Long March-4B rocket blasted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi province, ferrying the Ziyuan-1-04, or CBERS-4 as it’s known in Brazil, into the sun-synchronous orbit.
The remote sensing satellite will serve the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite Program of the China Center for Resources Satellite Data and Application and Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. The next satellite in the program, CBERS-4B, is expected to be launched in 2016.
The Long March-4B, a three-stage, orbital carrier rocket, is used mostly to put satellites into low-Earth and sun-synchronous orbits. The first Long March-4B was launched in May 1999, sending the FY-1C weather satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit.
A sun-synchronous orbit is one in which an object orbiting Earth will always be in the same position in the sky relative to the sun.
Sunday’s launch was the 23rd of a Long March-4B. The first Long March rocket was launched in April 1970, carrying China’s first satellite, Dongfanghong-1, or Red East-1, into Earth orbit.
That Long March-1 launch made China the fifth nation to achieve independent launch capability.
In 1985, China announced it would begin to provide launch service to international clients, and it sealed its first launch contract in 1990, when a communications satellite was sent into space on a Long March-3 launcher.
Before the launch on Dec 7, China had launched 38 rockets that carried 45 satellites for foreign clients, and provided 10 piggyback launch services to such clients.
Beijing is aiming for 10 percent of the international satellite market and 15 percent of the commercial launch sector by the end of 2015, according to China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the country’s leading developer of spacecraft and launch vehicles.
Long March rockets have a 96 percent mission success rate, and Chinese engineers have been striving to improve the rockets’ reliability, said Li Tongyu, head of aerospace products at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the nation’s major rocket developer and a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.
“Of the 10 failures, seven were during the first 50 launches－there were only three failures in the later 150 flights,” he said.
“Our high success rate is testament to the Long March family’s good quality and technological capability. It enabled us to keep low insurance costs for our clients’ satellites, because insurers believe in our rockets.”
The academy is now working on the development of the Long March-5, the heaviest and most technologically advanced of the rocket family. It is planning to conduct a launch drill with the newly built Wenchang Satellite before the end of the year.
The Long March-5 is nearly 57 meters high and its diameter is 5 meters. Its launch weight can be as much as 800 metric tons. The new rocket will have a maximum payload of 25 tons for low-Earth orbit and 14 tons for geosynchronous transfer orbit.
The Long March-5 will use liquid oxygen/kerosene or liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen as its propellants, which means it is more ecologically friendly than previous versions, said Luo Xiaoyang, a high-ranking academy official.
In addition to the Long March-5, China is also developing the Long March-7, a medium-heavy launch vehicle that will ferry the unmanned Tianzhou cargo spacecraft to the country’s future space station.