China Plans First Sea-Launch Of Satellites Using Long March-11 Rocket This Year

A Long March rocket blasting off from launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in 2013.
VCG / Stringer / Getty Images

China is planning to conduct the first sea-launch of its satellites using a Long March-11 rocket in 2018, according to Yang Yiqiang, a senior official at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

A report published in Xinhua News claims that the Chinese space agency would conduct five Long March-11 rocket launches this year. While four of these launches would be land missions, one launch would be carried out from the sea.

“The sea-launch will meet the growing needs for launching near-equatorial and low-inclination satellites, and improve the rockets’ adaptability,” Yang, the commander-in-chief of the Long March-11 rockets project, said.

According to Xinhua News, rocket sea-launches are less costly compared to land missions. They not only save rocket fuels but also boost the load capacity of the rocket. However, these missions also need to demonstrate stable, accurate performance as the launch is usually influenced by relatively high temperatures and powerful winds in the sea.

According to Straitstimes, China currently has four satellite launch centers on land: (1) Jiuquan in Gansu province, (2) Xichang in Sichuan province, (3) Taiyuan in Shanxi province, and (4) Wenchang in Hainan province. Of them, only Wenchang is the only center located near the sea. It lies far away from the thickly populated areas and therefore allows reducing the risk of causalities in the event of an accident during a rocket launch.

For more than 40 years, China’s Long March rockets have been serving as the main carriers for satellite launches. The Long March-11 is a solid propellant rocket designed and developed by the CASC. It is capable of delivering multiple microsatellites into space. Compared to other liquid-fueled rockets, it offers fewer steps while moving into space. The first maiden launch of the rocket was accomplished in 2015 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gansu province. China is expected to complete its Jilin satellite constellation of 138 small satellites in 2030, which will enable the country to observe any site on Earth every 10 minutes.

According to Popsci, Chinese scientists are also working on a solid-fueled, 60-ton rocket that would be dropped from the Y-20 military aircraft and would deliver a 220-pound payload to low Earth orbit.

Defense experts believe China’s plans to launch satellites from sea mesh well with the country’s ambition to become the world’s space superpower in the near future. To fulfill this ambition, Chinese scientists are working hard to develop reusable rockets, manned moonshots, Martian landers, and hypersonic planes.