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Reusable rockets taking off

Zhao Lei
Updated: Aug 2,2018 8:43 AM     China Daily

Chinese rocket scientists are devising ways to enable some of their products to be reusable, according to senior space scientists.

Lu Yu, head of the science and technology committee at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, told China Daily in an exclusive interview on Aug 1 that designers at the academy, the country’s largest developer of launch vehicles, have begun making tests with some of China’s in-service rockets to see whether they can be modified to be reusable, and whether their stages can be safely retrieved.

“If we can control the descent process of the core stage of a rocket and recover it, we will be able to improve the economic performance of our launches, and also reduce risk and disturbance to residents living along the rocket’s trajectory,” he said.

Lu noted the nation’s new generation of launch vehicles will also adopt reusable technologies, and the Long March 8 will be the first to use such technologies among new rockets.

The Long March 8 is now under development at the academy, and will eventually be tasked with providing commercial launch services to customers around the globe.

“The need for space-based services from the government, the commercial sector and the public keeps increasing, thus generating huge demand for launch services,” Lu said.

“Making rockets recoverable and reusable is an ideal approach to reduce launch costs as well as boost mission efficiency.”

Lu made the remarks on the sidelines of a design competition for recoverable carrier rockets hosted by his academy.

Reusable rockets are not easy to make as they require low-cost manufacturing techniques, lightweight materials and advanced autonomous landing technology with high accuracy, he added.

“Therefore we are holding a competition to invite members of the public to display their creative and innovative ideas that can generate new ideas for our engineers,” he said.

According to Long Lehao, a top Chinese rocket scientist and an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the Long March 8 will have two stages and two boosters, and the first stage and boosters are expected to be retrieved through vertical landings.

If research and development proceeds accordingly, the new rocket will make its maiden flight around 2021, Long said at a lecture in June at Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Li Tongyu, head of carrier rocket development at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said the Long March 8 will be capable of sending 4.5-metric-ton payloads to a sun-synchronous orbit, or 2.5 tons to a geosynchronous transfer orbit.

In another development, ChinaRocket Co Ltd, a subsidiary of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, announced on July 31 that it is designing a small, solid-fuel rocket to provide commercial launches for clients.

The LD 1 will be able to place a 150-kilogram satellite, or multiple mini satellites, into a sun-synchronous orbit 700 kilometers above Earth. Its prelaunch preparations will be much easier than those for large rockets and will take only 24 hours, the company said in a statement.

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