By Bill Ostrove, Space Systems Analyst, Forecast International.
China has conducted a ground test of the Long March 5 (CZ-5) power system. The engines were fired for the final ground test before the first launch, expected next year. According to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry, the test was a success.[i] Specifically, China tested the YF-75D cryogenic engine, which will be used in the second stage of the Long March 5B variant.[ii]
The Long March 5 is popular in Chinese press because it will carry the Chang’e 5 spacecraft to the moon in 2017. Chang’e 5 will collect lunar samples and return them to Earth for further study.[iii]
When it enters service, the Long March 5 will be the largest launch vehicle in China’s inventory, and will rival the U.S. Delta IV Heavy in lift capacity. It will be able to carry up to 25 metric tons to low-Earth orbit and 14 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit. The Long March 5 will be used for defense, scientific and commercial missions.
China’s new CZ-5 launch vehicle is being designed with modular components, allowing for a wide variety of configurations. China is currently planning six variants (A through F) of the Long March 5. The wide-ranging capabilities of the various CZ-5 configurations will allow the Long March 5 to become the primary launch vehicle in the Chinese market. It will be supplemented by the CZ-6 and CZ-7, which will share components with the larger CZ-5.
The Long March 5 has dealt with a number of issues recently. China has had a difficult time overcoming structural problems associated with manufacturing such a large launch vehicle. Building a new launch base that can handle the large CZ-5 has also proven troublesome. As a result of these problems, the first launch has continually been delayed. With a successful engine test, it appears that the program is starting to get back on track.