Long March 7 delivered to Wenchang Satellite Launch Center

Long March 7 finished its journey from China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) factory in Tianjin and now remains in Wenchang Satellite Launch Center assembling facility.

New Long March 7 rocket was designed by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation basing on Long March 2F as medium launch vehicle and will be used together with another next generation rockets: heavy Long March 5 and small Long March 6. With LEO payload capacity at 13.5 t rocket is important part of the Tiangong-2 space station program where its main purpose will be delivering crew members to space station with new Chinese spacecraft. CNSA announced that process of transportation is finished. Now for further weeks Long March 7 will be assembled and integrated with payload to start its maiden flight at 26th June 2016.

Long March 7 dimensions are almost identical as in Long March 2F: core diameter is 3.35 m and diameter of liquid fueled boosters is 2.25 m (just like in Long March 2F); rocket is shorter than Long March 2F for about 10 m (51 m total height) and heavier with start mass at 594000 kg (Long March 7 mass is 464000 kg). Main improvement is propulsion fueled with liquid oxygen and kerosene which is more environment friendly than N2O4/UDMH used in Long March 2F. It is probably first step for implementing some kind of reusable technology in future (read more here). Long March 7 engines are YF-100 and they will be used for core and for the four boosters. Each engine will give 1200 kN of thrust at sea level. Second stage propulsion is four YF-115 engines with thrust at 706 kN.

It was not yet officially confirmed, but it is possible that payload during maiden flight of the Long March 7 will be scaled model of new Chinese spacecraft, which is considered as replacement for Shenzhou. New spacecraft is designed by China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and looks on the drawings similar to Orion or CST-100. Chinese spacecraft lost its three modules and Soyuz-like shape to the favor of more conical form of the crew module with cylindrical service module. It is planned to manufacture two versions of the spacecraft with different weight and capacity: 14 t and 20 t along with two versions of service module with different propulsion and fuel capacity. Return capsule is equipped in parachutes (landing will be probably without any support of solid fueled thrusters) and radio system for communicating during reentry with hypersonic speed. Capsule will be able to land on present landing zones in Mongolia or like SpaceX Dragon spacecraft on the sea. Spacecraft will be able to deliver to LEO 6 crew members and in its lunar version this number will be reduced to four. Emergency rescue system will be based in solid rocket motor which will help to jettison whole spacecraft from launching vehicle for safe distance; it was not yet announced if system will be able to work in every moment of the flight. Crew capsule will be probably reusable with lightweight Thermal Protection System based on Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) - again it was not confirmed if TPS will be single element which will be easy to change after mission, but it is possible due the general orientation of the project for modular construction and cost cutting.

On picture above: Shenzhou mockup showing clearly 3 basic modules of the spacecraft.