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In 2021, Luan Enjie, former chief of the China National Space Administration, China’s new generation heavy-lift carrier rocket, large enough to carry a 100-ton payload to the Moon, has completed feasibility studies and was entering the final phase of obtaining state clearance in the same year. The Long March 9 rocket, which is required for upcoming megaprojects, appears to be in the design stages of a fully reusable variant.

Plans for new, methane-liquid oxygen launch vehicles that are reusable are scheduled to be ready in 2035 have just come to light, which shows that China is seeking to make big modifications to its space transportation strategies. The Long March 9 super heavy-lift launcher is being developed with the agreement of the Chinese government, as was indicated last year. By 2030, when Chinese megaprojects like the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) are expected to be completed, the long-planned, expendable rocket is anticipated to be operational.

Kerosene and liquid oxygen propellant mixture will be utilized for the boosters and first stage of the massive rocket, which will have 3 stages and 4 side boosters.

However, in a recent public presentation, Long Lehao, who is a seasoned Long March rocket series designer, proposed a fresh idea for a reusable two-stage launcher.

There would be 26 clustered 200-ton-thrust methalox engines powering the 10.6-meter-diameter launcher’s first stage. 150 tons of payload may be transported into low-Earth orbit, 65 tons into GTO (geosynchronous transfer orbit), and 50 tons into trans-lunar injection.

The new launches, which are scheduled to be finished by 2035, were announced by Long, a top official who routinely provided updates on China’s space programs. They were probably created concurrently with the expendable version. The largest design, reportedly containing the third stage, would be 110 meters long and weigh 4,122 tons at takeoff.

The ideas would represent a significant divergence from both the Long March 9’s disposable model and the version with the reusable first stage that got unveiled in 2021, with full reusability now being the objective. However, the frequent concept changes also imply that China’s plans may be changing. The presentation, which was given in July, was made just before the first test launches for both SpaceX’s fully reusable Starship and the disposable Space Launch System into space.

Performance benefits and decreased soot and coking problems for reusability are provided by methane-liquid oxygen. The strategies are in line with the switch to fuel being made by Blue Origin, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance.

It also adopts a more compact two-stage methane-liquid oxygen launcher design that Wang Xiaojun, head of the CALT (China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology), presented. This design appears to be inspired by SpaceX’s Starship.

It seems like a rapid change from methalox. However, China’s institutions for propulsion, which are part of the state-owned CASC (China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation), have long been developing methane engines, making a change of course relatively possible. Long may have plans to replace several outdated hypergolic rockets with a smaller, five-meter-diameter, reusable rocket in addition to more current, kerosene-propelled Long March rockets that have become operational in the past ten years.

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