China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the nation's leading space contractor, announced on Wednesday that it plans to conduct the maiden flight of the Long March 6A carrier rocket before the end of this year.
The State-owned conglomerate said in an annual report on its space activities that the medium-lift Long March 6A will consist of a 50-meter, liquid-propelled core booster and four solid-fuel side boosters. It will be tasked with transporting satellites to multiple types of orbit such as sun-synchronous, low-Earth or intermediate circular orbit.
The rocket, developed by the company's Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, will have a liftoff weight of 530 metric tons. Its core booster will have a diameter of 3.35 meters and will be propelled by two 120-ton-thrust engines burning liquid oxygen and kerosene.
Featuring modular designs and flexibility, the rocket will be able to conduct a wide variety of launch missions and will be economically attractive to clients, designers said.
Despite being called Long March 6A, the new rocket will be very different from the Long March 6, which was also designed and built by the Shanghai academy.
The Long March 6 is about 30 meters tall and weighs 102 tons, which is much smaller and lighter than the new model. It is capable of placing a payload of about 1 ton into a sun-synchronous orbit 700 kilometers above the ground. It was first launched in September 2015 and has taken part in four flights.
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp said in the report on Wednesday that it plans to conduct more than 40 missions this year, including those for the nation's space station program.
The most important missions will be sending the station's major components, cargo ships and astronauts to assemble the multimodule station, which is scheduled to be fully operational before the end of 2022.
The Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket, tasked with deploying the core capsule of the station, arrived at the Wenchang Space Launch Center in Hainan province on Monday. It is due to be launched in the coming months.
In 2020, the company made 34 rocket launches, including three by Long March 5-series rockets that carried into space－China's next-generation manned spacecraft, the country's first independent Mars mission and the historic Chang'e 5 lunar sample-return mission.
China has developed and put several new-generation rockets on the market over the past five years to serve its rapidly expanding presence in space. In addition to State-owned enterprises, a small number of private companies have also obtained the highly sophisticated expertise of designing and making launch vehicles, and two of them have succeeded in using their rockets to send satellites into orbit.