The Long March 2C, China's new generation of carrier rockets, will carry a new aircraft aloft in 2018 and an expert said it is of major significance for China's space development.
The new aircraft, a Yuanzheng-1S, is able to carry different types of satellite into orbit. Its design work was finished in March, so it can be used for Sun-synchronous orbital missions next year, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT) said on its website.
The Yuanzheng-1S is a simpler commercial version of the Yuanzheng-1 and is used for short missions and mid-to-low-Earth orbit, Wang Mingzhe, a research fellow from the Beijing Institute of Astronautical Systems Engineering said on the CALVT release.
Yuanzheng-1, dubbed the "space shuttle bus," has been launched into the earth orbit by the Long March-7, Wang Xiaojun, chief commander of the Long March-7 program, told a press conference, the Xinhua News Agency reported in June 2016.
China has developed 3 upper stages for carrier rockets - the Yuanzheng-1, Yuanzheng-1A, and Yuanzheng-2, Xinhua reported.
"The upper stage has the ability to send satellites into orbit, especially medium-to-high orbits. It is an independent module that can be loaded on different carrier rockets," Song Zhongping, a Phoenix TV commentator and military expert, told the Global Times on Monday.
The upgraded Yuanzheng-1A has far greater ability than the Yuanzheng-1, with an extended flight time of from 6.5 hours to 48, and its main engine can start nine times and can unload cargo seven times, compared with the older model that could carry one load and start its engine twice.
The Yuanzheng-2 has two engines and greater ability in orbit transfers.
"It now seems that the four Yuanzheng upper stage rockets can meet different mission needs and future designs will focus on improving them even more," Wang said in the CALVT report.
This systematic development of the upper stage of the rocket has helped with the versatility of the carrier rocket, making it suitable for mid-to-high orbits, Song commented.