Tag Archives: Long March 5B

Long March 5B core stage returns to Earth over Atlantic Ocean

The core stage of China’s biggest rocket, the Long March 5B, made an uncontrolled re-entry over the Atlantic Ocean today, only about fifteen minutes after passing almost directly over New York City.

While the size of the Long March 5B’s core stage made Monday’s unguided re-entry remarkable, most of the rocket was expected to burn up as it plunged back into the atmosphere. Most of the rocket was made up of hollow propellant tanks, but the dense turbomachinery of the core stage’s two YF-77 main engines could have survived the fall from space.

It appears that the design of that core stage includes engines that cannot be restarted, which means every single Long March 5B launch will include a similar uncontrolled re-entry.

As a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty, China is liable for any damage or harm done by any space object they launch into space. I guess they figure they are already liable for the Wuhan flu, a falling rocket can’t make that much difference anymore.

Long March 5B’s core stage might hit the ground in uncontrolled reentry

China does it again! The core first stage of China’s first Long March 5B launch is expected to fall back to Earth sometime tomorrow or the next day in an uncontrolled reentry, and it appears that it is large enough for its denser sections to reach the ground.

The core stage is more massive than other notable satellites that have plunged unguided back into Earth’s atmosphere in the last decade, such as China’s Tiangong 1 space lab, Russia’s failed Phobos-Grunt Mars probe, and NASA’s UARS atmospheric research satellite. It’s about one-quarter the mass of NASA’s Skylab space station, which made headlines when it fell to Earth over Australia in 1979.

…The Long March 5B rocket body is mostly comprised of hollow propellant tanks, and much of the rocket’s structure is expected to burn up during re-entry. But some pieces, such as denser parts of the rocket’s two main engines, could survive the fall to Earth and hit the ground. [emphasis mine]

It is very hard at this moment to predict where the stage will come down, which could be as far north as New York and as far south as Wellington, New Zealand.

China is a signatory to the Outer Space Treaty, which states as follows:

Each State Party to the Treaty that launches or procures the launching of an object into outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, and each State Party from whose territory or facility an object is launched, is internationally liable for damage to another State Party to the Treaty or to its natural or juridical persons by such object or its component parts on the Earth, in air or in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies. [emphasi mine]

Does China care? Apparently not. This is the second uncontrolled reentry of a large Chinese object in less than two years, since their first space station module, Tiangong-1, came crashing down in 2018. They might have had an excuse with Tiangong-1, since they lost control of it. With this core stage there are no excuses, assuming they have not made plans to bring it down in a controlled manner. We will find out in the next 48 hours.

Nonetheless, this should give us warning about their intentions in space. Though the treaty also forbids any nation from claiming territory, and they will certainly object to the Trump administration’s attempts recently to get around that restriction, I guarantee they will take possession completely of any territory they grab on the Moon or on any asteroids. It does really appear that they really don’t care about international treaties, except when it is to their benefit.

Chinese manned test capsule returns to Earth

The new colonial movement: China’s first unmanned test flight of its new manned capsule, still unnamed, ended today with that capsule’s safe return to Earth.

Before re-entry into the atmosphere, the capsule executed a skip maneuver employing aerodynamic lift in the high upper atmosphere. The technique is used to extend the re-entry time for vehicles returning to Earth from the Moon to avoid having to shed a large amount of velocity in a short time causing very high rates of peak heating. The skip reentry was used by Apollo Command Module returning from the Moon, as well as the Soviet Zond Probes and the Chinese Chang’e 5-T1.

Following atmospheric reentry, and at a determined altitude, two deceleration parachutes were opened, stabilizing the vehicle. Then, the three main parachutes were deployed, slowing the flight speed of descent. According to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), moments before touching down the heat shield was discarded and six airbags were deployed and inflated to help it land softly.

More here from China’s propaganda press, which included this detail:

Different from the three-capsule structure of Shenzhou spaceships currently in use, the new spacecraft comprises a return capsule, which is the command center and the living place for astronauts, and a service capsule, which provides power and energy, according to the CAST.

In other words, the Shenzhou copied the Soyuz design, while this new spacecraft copied the American design used in all our manned capsules.

I have embedded below the fold a short video released by China’s state-run press, showing the reentry. That capsule sure looks a lot like an Apollo capsule. It also looks surprisingly scorched.
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China: All well for manned test capsule

The new colonial movement: A sparse report in China’s propaganda state-run press today states that the test manned capsule launched by its Long March 5B rocket on May 5 is functioning normally in orbit.

So far, the new spaceship, developed by the China Academy of Space Technology under the CASC, has unfolded its solar panels and positioned them toward the sun, deployed its relay antenna and established a relay communication link, as well as conducted autonomous orbit control four times.

It is now in a stable flight attitude in a highly elliptical orbit, with the power supply, measurements and control links normal, said the CASC.

They intend to raise its orbit three times before returning to Earth on May 8th. This higher orbit is likely intended to increase the speed in which the spacecraft reenters the atmosphere, thus facilitating one of the mission’s goals, testing the system’s heat shield. It is likely that this higher orbit will also allow them to test reentry procedures for returning the capsule from beyond Earth orbit.

China has problem with test “cargo return capsule”

According to China’s propaganda state-run news, an “inflatable cargo return capsule ” launched on yesterday’s Long March 5B rocket “operated abnormally” during its return to Earth.

That’s all they tell us. The description suggests this is not the test manned capsule launched by the Long March 5B, but the text is vague enough that it could be, since that unmanned capsule was supposedly going to return to Earth in one or two days.

At the moment I have not seen any other updates on the status of that manned capsule. If the problem was with it, this issue could delay their manned space station program, scheduled to go into full operation by 2022.

Successfully first launch of China’s Long March 5B

The new colonial movement: China today successfully completed the first launch of its Long March 5B rocket, the rocket it plans to use to launch its future manned and planetary missions as well as the modules of its first space station.

The payload was the first unmanned test flight of their new upgraded manned capsule, still unnamed. It is expected that this capsule will return to Earth in the next day or so.

China’s next-generation crew carrier is also reusable for up to 10 flights, with a detachable heat shield built to handle higher-temperature returns through Earth’s atmosphere, such as those a capsule would encounter on a re-entry from a lunar mission.

The Xinhua news agency reported the primary purpose of the crew capsule test flight is to verify the ship’s re-entry technologies, such as its heat shield and recovery system. The capsule will return under parachutes and inflate airbags to cushion its landing on solid ground.

The leaders in the 2020 launch race:

7 China
6 SpaceX
6 Russia

The U.S. still leads China 10 to 7 in the national rankings.

Long March 5B moved to launchpad

The new colonial movement: China’s first Long March 5B rocket has been rolled to its launchpad in advance of its first launch, now expected around May 5th.

The launch was originally scheduled for mid-April, but it appears two recent Chinese launch failures, plus the Wuhan flu, caused the two-three week delay.

The payload is a test prototype of China’s still unnamed next generation manned capsule, which according to the article, will come in two variants:

The spacecraft has two variants of around 14 and 20 metric tons respectively. The mission will test the latter, which is designed for deep space. The mission will be uncrewed and will not include life support systems.

The spacecraft will be able to carry up to six astronauts, or three astronauts and 500 kilograms of cargo to LEO. The three-module Shenzhou can carry three astronauts to LEO and has been used for all six of the country’s crewed missions. The new spacecraft also features improved heat shielding than that used by the Shenzhou. The advanced shielding is required to survive the higher-energy reentries involved deep space missions.

Once in low Earth orbit, the two-module, 8.8-meter-long, 21.6-ton uncrewed spacecraft will use its own propulsion to raise its orbit to an apogee of around 8,000 kilometers. It will then attempt a high-speed reentry to test new heat shielding. The mission also will test avionics, performance in orbit, parachute deployment, a cushioned airbag landing, and recovery. Planned partial reusability — by replacing the heat shielding — will also be tested.

China’s entire manned and planetary program depends on the success of this launch. Should it fail, as did the early launches of the Long March 5, the program will likely experience a one to two year delay.

Long March 5B launch still set for mid-April, despite Wuhan virus

The new colonial movement: China is moving forward with its plans to complete the first launch of its big Long March 5B rocket in mid-April, despite the lockdowns because of COVID-19.

The Long March 5B is a variant of the Long March 5, which after two launch failures finally completed its first successful launch in December. The 5B is also the rocket they intend to use for all their manned missions, as well as launching the components of their manned space station.

Maiden flight of China’s Long March 5B rocket targeted for April

The new colonial movement: China is now targeting mid-April for the maiden launch of its Long March 5B rocket, which will place in orbit China’s new manned capsule on its first unmanned demo flight.

The article at the link, from China’s normally reticent state-run press, actually provides a great deal of information. First, it outlines the launch schedule for their space station, using the Long March 5B rocket:

China aims to complete construction of the space station around 2022. According to the CMSA, more than 10 missions are planned in the next three years to complete the construction and master technologies for in-orbit assembly and construction of large complex spacecraft, long-term manned spaceflight in near-Earth space and large-scale space science experiments.

…The space station will be a T shape with the Tianhe core module at the center and a lab capsule on each side. The core module — at 16.6 meters long and 4.2 meters in diameter, with a takeoff weight of 22.5 tonnes — will be the management and control center.

Second, the article confirms that the Long March 5B rocket will be used to launch all of China’s manned missions. This means they are dependent on their biggest and possibly most expensive rocket to make things happen, suggesting that either they will have to go slow or they have made a very big commitment to space. The quote above suggests the latter.

Third, the article reveals that their new manned capsule, which will weigh almost as much as a single station module on either their station or ISS, will be capable of carrying six astronauts, and that the descent module is designed to be reusable.

Finally, they confirm once again that they will also be launching “a large optical telescope” that will fly in formation with their space station. An earlier news article indicated that this telescope would have a mirror 12 meters in diameter, which would be five times bigger than the mirror on the Hubble Space Telescope. That same article however also noted major design issues.

Overall, it appears China is about to step out as a major space power, with capabilities that in many ways will exceed anything from either the U.S. or Russia.

Long March 5B arrives at launch site

The new colonial movement: China’s biggest rocket, the Long March 5B, has arrived at its launch site, where launch crews will do rehearsals using a prototype of that country’s core space station module, prior to an unmanned launch to test China’s new upgraded manned capsule.

The 5B is a variation of the Long March 5, which had its first successful launch (after two failures) in December.

Prototypes of China’s core space station module and new manned spacecraft arrive at launch site

The new colonial movement: Prototypes of China’s core space station module and its new upgraded manned capsule have been delivered to the Long March 5B launch site.

The space station module will be used to test the installation and launch procedures for launching the actual module on the Long March 5B rocket. The manned capsule will be sent into orbit unmanned this spring on the Long March 5B to test both the rocket and the capsule, prior to human operations. This detail from the short article however is worth noting:

The new-generation manned spacecraft is 8.8 meters long and has a takeoff weight of 21.6 tonnes. It will be used for transporting crew to the space station and to conduct China’s future manned lunar missions.

Apparently in upgrading its Shenzhou manned spacecraft China has made it 0.3 meters longer and about four tons heavier. In fact, this manned ferry for getting to and from its space station is as heavy as a standard module used on both Mir and ISS. I could be wrong, but if this is the case they will require the Long March 5 or 5B for every manned flight. Since this rocket is large and expensive, it will be difficult to use it for maintaining a frequent launch pace, thus limiting the number of manned missions.

As I said, I could be wrong. Up until now I had assumed that a variant of the Long March 5 would be used to launch the station modules, and the smaller Long March 2F rocket used to ferry astronauts to it (as was done on all previous Chinese manned missions). This could still be the case.

If not, however, China’s space engineers have either put a limit on what they can achieve by overbuilding that manned capsule, or their government has made a major commitment to put a lot of tonnage into orbit. If the latter China’s space program is going to be quite competitive indeed.

Long March 5B to launch first Chinese station module in 2020

The new colonial movement: China today announced that the launch of the first module for its space station will take place in the first half of 2020 on the maiden flight of its Long March 5B rocket.

China also announced today that they will launch Chang’e-5, their lunar sample return mission, by the end of this year, followed in 2020 by a Mars probe. Both launches will require use of the Long March 5.

The 5B appears to be a redesigned version of the 5, which has launched twice but failed on its second launch in 2017. Since then all launches of the Long March 5 ceased, with hints in the press that the failure occurred because the rocket’s first stage engines had badly underperformed and required a complete redesign. This redesign caused significant delays in the launch of Chang’e-5, China’s space station, and its Mars probe.

Today’s announcements suggest that that engine redesign is probably complete, and that they are now ready to resume Long March 5 launches, including the upgraded and revised 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.

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!

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.