China's moon-bound Long March 9 engine passes a key test

The super heavy-lift Long March 9 rocket could send humans to the Moon and Mars.
Chris Young
Astronaut setting a Chinese flag on the Moon stock photo.
Astronaut setting a Chinese flag on the Moon stock photo.


China successfully tested a new engine for its Long March 9 rocket, which it aims to eventually use to send the first crewed Chinese mission to the Moon.

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) said it has overcome technical difficulties in building its first prototype Yf-79 engine for the rocket.

As per a report by the South China Morning Post, the Long March 9 rocket will be a super heavy-lift rocket capable of launching humans into space and may eventually allow China to carry out interplanetary missions.

China overcomes Long March 9 engine difficulties

The new report details how the Beijing Astronautics Experiment Institute of Technology (BAEIT) announced it had overcome technical difficulties in the first prototype of its YF-79 rocket engine, its 25-ton thrust expander cycle hydrogen-oxygen engine designed for China's Long March 9 rocket.

BAEIT is a unit of state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the main contractor for the country's space program. It said it conducted three ground tests of the new hydrogen-oxygen engine on Friday, September 30, and also announced it had carried out 12 ignition tests over the space of a week.

"Our teams … shortened the test cycles and increased test capacity, and achieved consecutive successes," BAEIT explained in a statement on its WeChat social media account, as per the South China Morning Post.

According to the South China Morning Post, the developers aim to make the YF-79 the most powerful rocket engine of its type. The most obvious point of comparison would be SpaceX's next-generation Raptor engines that will power its Starship rocket into orbit. The fully reusable Starship launch system will use 39 raptor engines at launch, each of which provides 230 tons of thrust at sea level.

A new space race

China's Long March 9 rocket is a three-stage rocket with boosters. In its first stage, it will also utilize an in-development 500-tonne thrust supplement combustion cycle kerosene-oxygen engine known as the YF-130.

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Four YF-130s will be used in the first stage, two YF-90s in the second, and four YF-79s will be used in the third stage, according to the South China Morning Post. The YF-130s, meanwhile, could be used as boosters.

During the Zhuhai Air Show last year, CASC designer Liu Bing said the Long March 9 is being designed to deliver 15 to 50 tonnes of payload to the Moon or 12 to 44 tonnes to Mars. Its low-Earth orbit capacity is 50 to 140 tons, which is less than SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, which is able to carry 150 tons to orbit. China's most powerful operational rocket, the Long March 5, is able to carry 25 tons to orbit.

China is in a race with the U.S. to send the first humans to the red planet, and its space agency has previously announced it could achieve the historic feat by 2033. The former has also teamed up with Russia to build a lunar orbital station and send humans to the Moon before 2030.

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