China’s first reusable rocket stage will launch in 2020

The Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the leading builder of Chinese space launch rockets, announced that its Long March (CHang Zheng in Chinese) LM-8 space rocket will launch in 2020.

Above – The Long March 8, scheduled to start flying in 2020, has a completely reusable first stage, with powered descent for the core, and parachutes for the boosters. Sina Weibo/ Spaceflightfans

Like the SpaceX Falcon and Falcon Heavy, the LM-8’s first stage will be reusable, using leftover fuel to land vertically. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, given that CASC has previously promised to make all its rockets reusable by 2035.

The LM-8 will have less payload than a SpaceX Falcon 9. It will be capable of carrying 7.7 tons to low-earth orbit. It shares the same first stage core as the larger Long March 7 (which is China’s newest man-rated rocket), but compared to the Long March 7, it has only two K2 liquid rocket boosters. Once the LM-8’s second stage separates to enter orbit, the LM-8’s first stage will descend back to the ground by carefully burning remaining fuel to maneuver onto the landing pad, with the aid of grid fins. Landing struts will unfold from the bottom of the rocket to ensure a smooth touchdown. The boosters will separate and parachute back to the ground.

Other larger Chinese space launch rockets—could be retrofitted with resusablity. CASC is planning to test grid fins on a Long March 4B rocket in 2019. Test launch of a reusable, smaller Long March 6 rocket is planned for 2020. Success in these tests will fit into CASC’s plan to make all its Long March rockets—from the super heavy “moon rocket” Long March 9 to the Long March 6—reusable by 2035.