China has successfully completed the 300th launch of their Long March family of rockets. The Long March 3B launch deployed the Chinasat 6C communications satellite into a geosynchronous orbit for China Satcom.
The Long March 3B carrying the Chinasat 6C satellite was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 17:28 on March 9, 2019. Following a successful launch, the satellite separated from the rocket’s upper stage into its planned geosynchronous orbit.
Development of the first Long March rocket, the Long March 1 began in January 1965. The two-stage liquid-fueled rocket stood at just under 30 meters (98 feet) tall and was capable of launching 300 kilograms into a low Earth orbit. The rocket was launched on its maiden flight on April 24, 1970, deploying China’s first satellite, the Dong Fang Hong I (The East is Red 1). The Long March 1 was only launched once more in 1971 deploying the Shi Jian 1 satellite.
The Long March 1 would be replaced by the equally short-lived Long March 2A before the maiden launch of the extremely reliable Long March 2C began. Since its maiden launch in 1982, the Long March 2C has been launched 44 times suffering just a single failure. The Long March 2A would later be joined by the equally reliable Long March 2D and 2F, both of which are yet to suffer a single launch failure, and the calamitous Long March 2E. The 2E was launched just 7 times before being retired. It suffered 2 failures and 1 partial failure.
The first Long March 3 was launched on January 29, 1984. It was a rocky start with the rocket’s upper stage failing to deploy the satellite into its designated orbit. The rocket would be launched a total of 13 times suffering 2 more failures until it was finally retired in 2000. The rocket was replaced by the Long March 3A and 3B both of which are still in operation having flown 83 missions between them. The Long March 3C was added to the mix in 2008 and has been launched 16 times with a flawless record.
Introduced in 1988, the Long March 4A was launched just twice. Following the successful launch of the Fengyun 1B satellite in September 1990, the rocket was retired. The Long March 4 designation would remain dormant through much of the 1990s before the Long March 4B was introduced in 1999. It and the upgraded Long March 4C have been launched on a combined 56 missions suffering just one failure each.
In an effort to ensure reliable heavy-lift access to space, development of the Long March 5 began in 2007 after almost two decades of feasibility studies. The rocket was launched for the first time almost 10 years later in November 2016 successfully deploying the 4,000-kilogram (8,800-pound) experimental Shijian 17 satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. However, after a failed second launch, the rocket was benched as its engines were redesigned. The Long March 5 is expected to return to service this year.
The last five years have seen the introduction of a number of new next-generation Long March vehicles. In 2015, both the Long March 6 and 11 were launched on their maiden flights. A year later, the maiden Long March 7 successfully deployed a Chinese crew capsule mockup and four additional payloads. The three next-generation Chinese launch vehicles have since been launched a combined 10 times registering a 100% success rate.
Since the launch of the first Long March rocket in 1970, 300 missions have been launched aboard the family of rockets deploying more than 500 spacecraft into orbit. Long March rocket launches account for 96.4% of all orbital missions launched from China, a market share that is likely to be challenged in the future.