China’s Long March 7A launches communications satellite; dumps debris on Philippines

China today launched its Long March 7A rocket from its coastal Wenchang spaceport, successfully placing a communications satellite into orbit.

The coastal launch site meant that the rocket’s lower stages would not fall on China’s interior. Instead, it appears the drop zones were located in the Philippines.

The [Philippines Space] agency said it was able to verify the estimated drop zones of the rocket debris from a notice by the Civil Aviation Administration of China. “Two drop zones within the Philippine territory have been identified based on the NOTAM: Drop zone 1 is approximately 71 kilometers from Burgos, Ilocos Norte, while drop zone 2 is approximately 52 kilometers away from Sta. Ana, Cagayan,” PhilSA said in an advisory.

No word on whether this debris caused any damage. Regardless, China is continuing its policy, in violation of the Outer Space Treaty, of recklessly dumping rocket stages on others.

The leaders in the 2022 launch race:

41 SpaceX
37 China
11 Russia
6 Rocket Lab

American private enterprise still leads China 56 to 37 in the national rankings, but is now tied with the entire world combined 56 to 56. This tie will likely not be long-lived. Though Firefly’s launch has been delayed until next week, SpaceX and Rocket Lab have launches scheduled for today and tomorrow, respectively.

China launches two military satellites with its Long March 7A

China today successfully launched two military satellites from its coastal Wenchang spaceport, using its new Long March 7A rocket.

The Long March 7 family of rockets will eventually replace the Long March 2 and 3 families. It can launch from the coast, thus eliminating the need to drop boosters in China’s interior. It has greater capacity. It also uses kerosene and oxygen, not hypergolic fuels that ignite on contact and are very toxic.

The leaders in the 2021 launch race:

49 China
31 SpaceX
22 Russia
6 Europe (Arianespace)
5 Rocket Lab

As there no more American launches planned this year, with this launch China wins the 2021 launch race, moving ahead of the U.S. 49 to 48.

This was the 129th launch in 2021. As there are three launches still scheduled — a Russian Angara test launch, a Ariane 5 launch placing Webb in orbit, and a Russian OneWeb launch — the year is likely end up tying or beating 1975 as the most active year in rocketry ever. The Chinese could also launch, as it has in the past done a lot of launches in December.

China successfully launches new Long March 7A rocket

The new colonial movement: China today successfully launched for the first time its new Long March 7A rocket, likely designed to replace its Long March 3B.

The Long March 7A is a 60.1-meter-long, 3.35-meter-diameter kerosene and liquid oxygen launch vehicle with four side boosters, capable of delivering up to 7 metric tons of payload to GTO [geosychronoous transfer orbit]. The launcher draws on new kerosene engine technologies along with a stage modified from the older Long March 3B series, China’s current workhorse rocket, boosting China’s launch options to GTO.

The Long March 7A is more capable than the Long March 3B, which can launch 5.5 tons to GTO. By launching from the coast, it also does not incur the cost and hazards of the inland 3B launches. [China] plans to carry out 3-5 Long March 7A launches a year by 2025. The first launch of the Long March 7A failed in March 2020. A loss of pressure occurred after first stage separation, which led to engine malfunction.

The 2021 launch race:

7 SpaceX
5 China
3 Russia
1 Rocket Lab
1 Virgin Orbit
1 Northrop Grumman
1 India

The U.S. still leads China 10 to 5 in the national rankings.

Launch failure for China’s new Long March 7A rocket

The first launch attempt of China’s newly upgraded Long March 7 rocket, dubbed the 7A, ended in failure today.

As is usual for China, very little concrete information was released, about the payload or the failure.

State news agency confirmed failure (in Chinese) just under two hours after launch, with no cause nor nature of the failure stated.

The Long March 7A is an effort by China to replace the use of rockets that use dangerous propellants and are launched in the interior of the country, sometimes dumping their first stages in habitable regions.

The Long March 7A is a variant of the standard Long March 7, which has flown twice. A 2017 mission to test the Tianzhou refueling spacecraft with Tiangong-2 space lab was its most recent activity. The launcher uses RP-1 and liquid oxygen propellant and could replace older models using toxic propellants.

It is also intended to launch from their new coastal spaceport in Wenchang. It did this today, though unsuccessfully.