Tag Archives: Long March 5B

China’s big space launch schedule

This Space News article does a nice job outlining the known schedule situation for China’s Long March 5 rocket. To summarize, it appears the launch schedule is roughly as follows:

November 2018: Long March 5 launches new geosynchronous communications satellite
Early 2019: Long March 5 launches Chang’e-5 to the Moon on sample return mission
June 2019: Long March 5B launches first test flight of upgraded and reusable Shenzhou manned capsule
2020: Long March 5B launches Tianhe, first module of China’s space station
Summer 2020: Long March 5 launches China’s first rover to Mars
2020 to 2022: Long March 5B launches two more modules to complete China’s space station

This schedule all hinges on the success of that first launch.

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China’s space station delayed to 2020

Because of redesign work required on its Long March 5 rocket, China revealed today that the launch of the first module, Tianhe, of their planned space station, has now been set for 2020.

Launch of Tianhe had earlier been planned for 2018, but the launch failure in July last year of the Long March 5 rocket, a heavy-lift launch vehicle required to loft the 20-tonne space station modules to low Earth orbit, meant a delayed schedule.

The next attempt at a Long March 5 launch, which will send a large telecommunications satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit, will take place from Wenchang in the second half of 2018. If that is successful, it will pave the way for a test launch of the low Earth orbit variant of the rocket, the Long March 5B, around June 2019. The follow-up flight will then launch the Tianhe module, now set to take place in 2020.

During the Soviet era, it was not unusual for the Russians to suddenly invent a new variant of a rocket or space capsule in order to provide cover for their need to redesign or fix problems. That is what I think is happening here. Until the still unexplained launch failure of Long March 5 in July 2017, I had never heard of a Long March 5B. It was the Long March 5 that was going to do all the heavy lifting.

Now we suddenly have a Long March 5B, a “low Earth orbit variant of the rocket.” I increasingly suspect that the problems with Long March 5 were so serious that they have caused a complete redesign. It was able to get its first payload into orbit, but not its second. The failure was not accompanied by any catastrophic event, which suggested, based also on later reports, that the rocket’s first stage engines simply under-performed significantly. I wonder now if what China is doing now is making that weak rocket the 5B, while they redesign the 5 so it can lift the big payloads required.

We also cannot trust them entirely with the naming they use of their rocket for each launch. The next Long March 5 launch in 2018 might actually be the 5B variant, without the name, and the so-called first test of the 5B in June 2019 might actually be the first test of the full powered 5.

Wheels within wheels!

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Long March 5B delayed to 2019?

In this article touting the release of a propaganda commercial by China’s human spaceflight center, there was this short tidbit about the status of the Long March 5, grounded since a failed launch in July.

The 1.5 stage Long March 5B, designed for the task, has yet to fly. Its maiden flight was delayed by the failure last July of the 2.5 stage Long March 5, which launches missions to geosynchronous orbits as well as lunar and interplanetary missions.

Should a return-to-flight of the Long March 5 late this year be successful, the Long March 5B will debut in 2019 before then launching the Tianhe core module from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre.

This quote illustrates the techniques used by a secretive Soviet style nation that wishes to hide its problems. Until July 2017, when the Long March 5 failed on its second flight, there was never anything called the Long March 5B. Long March 5 was the rocket that was going to launch China’s space station modules. Now that it appears that significant changes to the rocket are required to fix it, suddenly the Long March 5B is described as the rocket that was “designed for the task” of launching the space station, not Long March 5. Long March 5 was only a first version, and the real rocket that will launch the station will debut in 2019.

“Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.”

Meanwhile, the propaganda commercial being touted, supposedly releasing never-before seen video showing astronaut training, is almost entirely made-up of staged footage, very carefully and dramatically lit. I would guess that it contains less than 15 seconds of live documentary footage, out of the 3:44 minute film.

None of this criticism here is aimed at the Chinese engineering. In fact, it is a good thing that they have recognized the problems with Long March 5 and are fixing them. It is also a good thing that they remain determined to continue their space program. I just think it necessary for everyone to recognize propaganda when they see it. When you do, you find out that the real story here is that they appear to be delaying somewhat the launch of their space station because of the delays necessary to fix Long March 5.

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