(Sen) – Chinese scientists have finished preliminary research into a colossal heavy-thrust rocket that could carry astronauts to the Moon and beyond.
The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology proposed the development of a heavy lift rocket as far back as 1986, but research didn’t begin until 2006.
After several years of research Chinese scientists have agreed that the country’s future heavy-lift rocket should have a lift-off thrust of 3,000 tonnes and be able to carry 100 tonnes into low-Earth orbit.
This would put the launcher in the same league as America’s iconic Saturn V Moon rocket, which could lift 120 tonnes.
But, if some reports are to be believed, the Chinese rocket could be capable of lifting up to 130 tonnes, which would make it the most powerful rocket ever built.
SpaceX are working on their own heavy-lift rocket, Falcon Heavy, which will be able to lift payloads of up to 53 tonnes. Credit: SpaceX
The Chinese launcher will represent a significant increase in China’s payload capability over their existing systems. Their current largest launcher, Long March 4, can only send a maximum of 4.2 tonnes into low-Earth orbit.
In a bid to boost their launch capability, the country is already developing a new family of large-lift launch vehicles. Their Long March 5 rocket, which will be able launch payloads of up to 25 tonnes, should enter service in 2014 and Long March 7, which will be able to lift up to 13.5 tonnes, will follow in 2017.
China has lagged behind Russia, America and Europe by ten years in the development of large-lift rockets and doesn’t intend to repeat the mistake with its heavy-lift capability.
Long March 5 and 7 will help China to fulfill its short term goals – such as building a space station by 2020 but, with its stated plans of a lunar landing, the development of a new launcher capable of lifting much larger payloads will be essential.
Analysis: China sets out its space strategy
Artist's impression of NASA's Space Launch System heavy-thrust rocket. Credit: NASA
Other countries also aiming for the Moon in the coming decades are developing new heavy-thrust rockets too. For America, NASA is developing the Space Launch System (SLS) to carry the multi-purpose Orion spacecraft into space. SLS is being designed to be able to lift 130 tonnes, while the Russians are working on a launcher that can lift 110 tonnes.
To cut costs, the Chinese are looking at ways to reuse the new launcher’s boosters and first two stages after each launch.