China’s Long March 7A rocket launches on 1st successful flight

China’s new Long March 7A rocket successfully launched its first orbital mission after its first attempt one year ago ended with a failure. 

The rocket lifted off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on China’s Hainan Island on Thursday (March 11) at 12:51 p.m. EST (1751 GMT, or 1:51 a.m. local time March 12), according to the Chinese state-run media outlet Xinhua

It lofted into orbit a classified experimental satellite called Shiyan-9 (meaning “experiment-9”), which was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology, according to a report from SpaceNews.

“The satellite will be mainly used for in-orbit tests of new technologies including space environment monitoring,” Xinhua stated in its report. 

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A Chinese Long March 7A rocket lifts off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on March 11, 2021.

A Chinese Long March 7A rocket lifts off from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on March 11, 2021. (Image credit: CCTV)

When China attempted to launch the new Long March 7A rocket on its debut flight on March 16, 2020 — almost exactly one year ago — an engine malfunction occurred shortly after first stage separation and the payload was lost, SpaceNews reported

The new rocket is intended to replace China’s workhorse Long March 3B rocket as the go-to launch vehicle for sending satellites into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, or the path satellites take to reach a geostationary orbit high above the Earth. It is a modified version of the Long March 7 rocket, which debuted in 2016 and has launched two missions to low Earth orbit. 

To reach a geosynchronous transfer orbit, a rocket must launch the satellite into an elliptical orbit that extends to about 23,000 miles (37,000 kilometers) above Earth, according to NASA, whereas satellites in low Earth orbit are 100 to 200 miles (161 to 322 km) above our planet.

The Long March 7A is also capable of lifting heavier payloads to orbit, with a carrying capacity of 8 tons (7 metric tons), as opposed to the Long March 7’s 6-ton (5.5 metric tons) carrying capacity, according to Xinhua. 

China is planning to launch three to five Long March 7A missions per year before 2025, Xinhua said, adding that “scientists will further upgrade the launch vehicle to meet the demand for sending satellites and deep-space probes to explore the moon, Mars and asteroids.”

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