China’s Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket is set to return to service in January 2019.
The Long March 5 is China’s largest launch vehicle. The rocket is capable of launching 25,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit and over 8,000 kilograms into a trans-lunar injection. The rocket was launched for the first time in 2016 from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site.
All Long March 5 launches were suspended following a failure in July 2017. It was just the second time the Long March variant had been launched. The failure presented as an anomaly in the first stage just minutes after launch. The anomaly promoted the onboard system to shift to an alternative trajectory that would ultimately cause the rocket to fail to reach orbit.
The failure was traced to a problem with one of the two YF-77 engines that power the rocket’s first stage. The engine has since been redesigned by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) with a successful hot fire test being conducted earlier this year.
In addition to sidelining the Long March 5, the failure had a significant impact on China’s space programme. The scheduled launch of Chang’e 5 lunar sample return mission, a Mars rover, and the first 20-tonne module of the country’s new space station have all suffering delays. If the upcoming launch goes as planned, it is hoped that the Chang’e 5 could follow as soon as late 2019. The launch of the first space station module and the Mars rover will likely follow in 2020.
With its return to service in January 2019, the Long March 5 will deploy the Shijian-20. If successful, the Shijian-20 will become the heaviest non-classified Geostationary Satellite ever deployed. The satellite is based on the Shijian-18 that was lost in the July 2017 failure.