As per a senior engineer, a novel heavy-lift rocket capable of delivering Chinese space explorers to the moon might make its first launch in 2026. Long Lehao, who is a senior space industry executive and the designer of the Long March launch vehicle, told state television CCTV on December 10 that the latest rocket was going to launch for the first mission in 2026. Long was featured in a television segment commemorating the 400th launch of the Long March rocket.

Long indicated that kerosene-liquid oxygen rocket might be used to send Chinese astronauts to the moon before 2030, repeating Ye Peijian, a key official in China’s lunar program. Other objectives, including circumlunar trips, have been suggested for the new rocket. The schedule was disclosed a month after NASA’s inspector general cautioned that the Artemis program’s return to the moon could be postponed beyond 2025.

The concept for a new-generation crewed launch vehicle debuted during a 2018 airshow. It is said to have received official government support earlier this year. However, this appears to be the first time a date for the inaugural has been made public. Long stated that the rocket will be built with ready-to-use, mature technologies, and that ” development will be relatively fast.”

The crew-rated rocket in development borrows technology as well as tooling from China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5. That rocket first launched in 2016, giving China a possible faster path to the moon than prior plans, which relied on the ultra-heavy-lift Long March 9.

The proposed crew-rated rocket is going to be capable of transporting 27 tons to lunar transfer orbit. It will be 90 meters tall and will be made up of 3 Long March 5 cores, with each measuring five meters in diameter. Clusters of the YF-100K engines will power the rocket, which are upgraded iterations of YF-100 kerosene engines utilized by China’s Long March 5, 6, and 7 launchers.

Long Lehao submitted a mission design in June called Long March 5 “Dengyue” (“moon landing”) that requires two deployments of the new crew rocket. Two astronauts would spend six hours on the lunar surface under this concept. Although China has not formally authorized a crewed moon landing flight, space industry authorities are increasingly discussing the possibility and timeframe of such a trip. The country has also committed to constructing an International Lunar Research Station, that is a  collaborative China-Russia and will initially serve as a robotic base before eventually becoming a human residence in the 2030s.

Other necessary components for crewed flights are also in the works. In May 2020, China conducted a test of a concept new-generation crew capsule for the trips beyond low Earth orbit. The government is also suspected of developing a lunar lander. The Long March 9, a larger rocket, is also being built. It will be responsible for launching significant infrastructure projects, such as the planned ILRS. According to current plans, the launcher will make its first flight in 2028, despite previous rumors indicating a launch date of 2030.

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