China today successfully launched the maiden voyage of its new line of modern, medium sized rockets called Long March 7 on Saturday at 8 a.m. Eastern time.
The launch vehicle delivered a scaled down version of a next-generation crew vehicle, which will remain in orbit for a time before landing in Mongolian.
This is also the debut of China’s new launch site in Wenchang in the southern Hainan Province. The new facility allows them to transport larger parts and is closer to the equator for more fuel efficiency.
This seventh edition is a big upgrade for the program, which has been deteriorating for the last 10 years, and it boasts an assortment of innovations including payload size, and claims that it’s more environmentally friendly.
Here’s everything we know about the vessel so far.
It’s Environmentally Friendly
China claims the engine is free of all non-toxic pollutants. Using liquid oxygen and kerosene as fuel, the only pollutants it expels is carbon dioxides and water.
While carbon isn’t technically a pollutant — we humans exhale it with every breath after all — the EPA has signaled that excessive concentrations of it in our atmosphere are damaging to the ozone layer. So in comparison to launches such as Friday’s Atlas V ULA flight, it may be cleaner. But it’s not exactly a non-polluting rocket.
It Can Carry a Large Payload
The Long March 7 weighs hundreds of tons and measures in at 53.1 meters in length, but it’s incredibly thin.
“The thinnest part could be as thin as an egg shell and measures only 0.8 millimeter,” a developer told the Chinese publication Xinhua.
This lighter weight allows it to carry a lot more in a payload. China claims the Long March 7 can carry 13.5 tonnes into low Earth orbit, which is significantly more than comparable rockets of its size that carry roughly 8.6 tons.
It Has a New Launch Site
The launch took place at China’s new Wenchang satellite launch center in southern Hainan Province. It’s the fourth launch site China has built and the first on an island, which gives it a lot of advantages.
For one, the location is closer to the equator, even closer than the popular U.S. launch site Cape Canaveral. This allows the Long March 7 to utilize the Earth’s naturally higher rotational speed in order to save fuel and carry larger loads.
Previous Chinese launch sites have also been inland, which has caused debris to fall near some unsuspecting villagers.
But mainly, it’s on an island so China can deliver larger parts to the launch site without having to rely on railways. The diameter of the parts had to be no larger than the width or height of mountain rail tunnels, but now they can transport parts via ship like the U.S. typically does.
It’s Able to Withstand the Weather
Despite all those new advantages to the launch location, China has unusually rainy and cloudy weather conditions in Wenchang for rocket launches. So, Long March 7 is made to withstand those forces. A developer says it even also has a device to overcome gale-force winds.