China tests new hydrogen-oxygen rocket engine in preparation for Moon landings

China has reportedly successfully conducted a test firing of its Long March-10 hydrogen-oxygen rocket. This is a critical milestone for the nation's plans to get astronauts to the Moon.
Christopher McFadden
Screenshot of the test from the China Central Television News App.

China Central Television News App/Global Times 

Chinese engineers and scientists have successfully test-fired the nation's latest Long March-10 rocket, CGTN reports. Powered by hydrogen, the rocket is intended to form the basis of a lift platform for the nation's ambitions to get its astronauts to the Moon.

The test was conducted on the morning of the 29th of July, 2023, and is a critical step on the journey to reach the Moon by around 2030.

Hydrogen Moon rocket

The rocket is powered using a combination of liquid hydrogen and oxygen to provide a thrust of around 130 tons. While not an enormous improvement on China's existing Long March-5 rocket (120-ton thrust), the lift platform will incorporate about 21 such rockets. This should provide an additional 210 tons of thrust with fewer rockets (and additional weight).

Zhou Xianqi, a China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) researcher, told the Global Times that "the engine has met all the requirements in the Saturday test." Xianqi added that they had tested the engine's startup, shutdown, and stability under high and low conditions.

Throughout the rocket's development, Xianqi explained, a variety of new materials, processes, and technologies have allegedly been developed. The development team has also had to overcome many technical issues, including starting and stopping the engine sequence, adjusting the engine's thrust at a large scale, and improving its longevity and reliability.

"In the second half of this year, we will conduct several high-altitude simulation tests to determine the relevant performance and parameters of this engine," Xianqi added.

Also according to Xinhua, the rocket uses liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen, and kerosene as propellants. It measures approximately 302 feet (92 meters( in length, and weighs around 2,187 tons during takeoff. The rocket generates a takeoff thrust of roughly 2,678 tons and has a carrying capacity of at least 27 tons for the Earth-Moon transfer orbit.

The new rocket can conduct missions to transport "Taikonauts" (the term for Chinese astronauts) and cargo to the space station without a booster configuration. It has a total length of 220 feet (67 meters), a takeoff weight of 740 tons, a takeoff thrust of 892 tons, and a low-Earth orbit carrying capacity of at least 14 tons.

According to Rong Yi (a rocket expert with the CASC China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology), the Long March-10 is a crucial component in China's plans to have astronauts land on the Moon by 2030.

Aiming for 2030

But, for this timescale to be met, the Long March-10 rocket will first need to complete its first flight (currently scheduled for around 2027). The carrier rocket's engine, core module, and other technical structures have undergone upgrades and have already undergone thorough testing too, Xinhua explained. In this respect, they are pretty much ready for an attempted mission to the Moon.

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