China Confirms Saturday for Launch of New Rocket from New Launch Site – UPDATE

China Confirms Saturday for Launch of New Rocket from New Launch Site – UPDATE

China confirmed today that it will conduct its first launch from the new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island on Saturday.  It will be the first launch of a new version of a Long March rocket — Long March 7.  Aboard will be a test scale model of a new crew spacecraft and several small satellites.  [UPDATE, July 24: As of 8:00 pm ET, China still had not announced a launch time.  UNOFFICIAL rumors circulating on the Internet suggest June 25, 11:30-12:00 GMT, which would be 6:30-7:00 am ET, but they are only rumors.]

Wenchang will be China’s fourth space launch site.  The other three are inland:  Jiuquan in the Gobi Desert, Xichang near Chengdu, and Taiyuan near Beijing.  It offers several advantages in that it is closer to the equator, a benefit for satellites headed to geostationary orbit (GEO), and rocket debris will fall in the water instead of on land.  It is a tropical climate, however, with unpredictable weather.   Although the launch is planned for Saturday, it could occur as late as Wednesday depending on the weather.

The main payload for this mission is a test scale model of a new crew spacecraft that is expected to be recovered.  China has launched humans into space five times since 2003 on Shenzhou spacecraft.  The two most recent crews, in 2012 and 2013, visited China’s first space station, Tiangong-1.  Launched in 2011, it ceased operating in March 2016 after 1,630 days in orbit.

China has big plans for Wenchang, which will also be the home of the new Long March 5 rocket, expected to achieve its first launch later this year.  Long March 7 is a mid-sized rocket (13.5 metric tons to LEO), while Long March 5 will be China’s most capable rocket ever at 25 metric tons to LEO.   (The largest U.S. rocket is the Delta IV, which can place 28.4 metric tons into LEO.)  Among China’s plans are launches of a new small space station, Tiangong-2, later this year, and a larger space station in the future (announced dates vary from 2020 to 2023).  Long March 7 is envisioned for launches of space station resupply missions.

This is the first Chinese launch that will have public viewing areas.  The South China Morning Post said that eight viewing sites can accommodate 25,000 people.

The launch time has not been released.  The launch may be shown live on China’s CCTV television outlet (available via the Internet).   Beijing Time is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), so the launch could occur on June 24 EDT.

China had inaugural launches of two new rockets last year, both at the
smaller end of the capability scale (Long March 6 and Long March 11)
from existing launch sites. The newer Long March rockets use more environmentally friendly fuel and are intended eventually to replace the older models (Long March 2, 3 and 4).

Note:  this article was updated on June 24 with the (lack of) information about the launch time.  Payload information was clarified that it is a scale model of the new crew spacecraft and updated to indicate that it is intended to be recovered.

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