China's newly launched Long March-7 rocket will deliver the country's first cargo spacecraft to its planned space station in April 2017, officials announced at a press conference on Saturday.
"The Long March-7 project began in January 2011 as a baseline model for China's latest generation of medium-sized carrier rockets. According to the plan, the Long March-7 is expected to launch China's first cargo spacecraft in April 2017. During the construction and operation of the space station, the rocket and the cargo spacecraft will serve as a transport system to replenish supplies and propellant for the station," said Wu Ping, deputy director of the China Manned Space Engineering Office, at a press conference after the successful launch of the carrier rocket from Wenchang Satellite Launch Center in the south China's Hainan Province on Saturday.
The 53-meter, 597-ton, liquid-fueled rocket can carry up to 13.5 tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO). Its main role in the future will be to transport cargo ships to China's future space stations as well as satellites and other spacecraft.
"The Long March-7 carrier rocket uses kerosene and liquid oxygen as fuel and a low-temperature pressurization system. Powered by six engines, it has a takeoff thrust of 730 tons and can carry 1.5 times as much as the current launch vehicles, which means a significant step forward in our country's rocket development project. In order to deliver as much propellant as possible and augment the rocket's takeoff thrust, we fitted a three-point strap-on booster configuration instead of the traditional two-point configuration," said Wang Xiaojun, the general director of the Long March-7 Project at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
The Wenchang Satellite Launch Center is the fourth of its kind in China, after the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Dessert, the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the southwestern China's Sichuan Province and the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern China's Shanxi Province.
Located on the country's southernmost point, the Wenchang center allows better access to geostationary orbit for Chinese satellites. It will be the main launch site for future space station missions.
"The center will be used for the launch of geosynchronous satellites, large polar orbiting satellites, low and medium Earth orbit spacecraft, cargo spacecraft, space stations, as well as deep space exploration and other missions. It will also be used during the third phase of China's lunar exploration program and the launch of the Chang'e-5 probe," said Wang Jingzhong, the Party Committee secretary at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.