China is building a new ship for maritime launches into space

China is building a ship specially designed to launch rockets into space from the seas in an effort to increase its ability to launch satellites and recover rocket stages.

The 533 feet (162.5 meters) long and 131 feet (40 meters) wide “new type rocket launcher ship” is being built for use with the new East China spaceport in Haiyang, Shandong province. , on the east coast.

The new ship is expected to enter service in 2022. It will have integrated launch support equipment and will be able to facilitate launches of the Long March 11, larger commercial “Smart Dragon” rockets and, in the future, liquid booster rockets. according to the social media channel for the spaceport.

Related: The Latest News on China’s Space Program

The spacecraft could also be used in the future for early stage recovery, possibly in the same way that SpaceX’s spaceport autonomous drone ships provide a landing pad for the early stages of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

China has already conducted two Long March 11 maritime solid rocket launches from the Yellow Sea using converted barges, with the most recent launch taking place in September 2020. These missions made China only the third country to conduct a maritime launch, after USA and Russia.

China’s main space contractor stated earlier in the year that it planned two or three March 11 long sea launches, but so far none have taken place. It is not known if the plans for the new ship are related to the apparent delays.

The ship will help boost the speed at which China can launch from the sea and relieve pressure on China’s four major launch centers.

A Chinese Long March 11 rocket carrying nine Jilin-1 Gaofen-3 Earth observation satellites is launched from the country’s De Bo 3 offshore platform in the Yellow Sea on September 15, 2020. (Image credit: CASCO)

So far in 2021, China has already launched 41 times so far, setting a new national record for orbital launches in a calendar year, leading the US which has 39 launches to date, including Rocket Lab launches since New Zealand.

With the emergence of new commercial ventures and major constellation plans underway, along with preparations for major space station missions, the sea launch option will provide more routes to orbit.

Launching from the sea promises other advantages for China. The flexible positioning of the launch site means that it is easier to choose a flight path that does not fly over other countries and ensures that spent rocket stages and other debris fall into the sea rather than onto land. Debris from launches from inland China falls to the ground instead of into the sea and sometimes lands near populated areas.

A mobile maritime platform also allows launches closer to the equator. The higher rotation speed of the Earth near the equator means lower fuel requirements to reach orbit.

The China Oriental Seaport project (sometimes called “China Eastern Seaport”) is led by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), the main rocket maker of China’s giant state space contractor CASC, in cooperation with the Haiyang city government.

The Haiyang base will also have the capacity to assemble and test rockets, and will produce up to 20 solid rockets per year. Future plans will allow the site to also produce more complex liquid rocket boosters.

China Rocket Co. Ltd., a commercial spin-off of CALT, is developing the “Smart Dragon” series of solid rockets. Smart Dragon 3 is expected to launch for the first time in 2022 and, at 102 (31 meters) long, it will be much larger than the 64-foot (19.5 meters) long Smart Dragon 1 that was first launched. in 2019.

China Rocket has also signed a contract for launches from Haiyang and Smart Dragon 3 will be capable of launching from the sea.

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