Long March-2F rocket to serve more manned missions to space station
Chief designer of China's only rocket type for manned missions unveiled why the Long March-2F carrier rocket is the most advanced, safest way to send Chinese astronauts to space.
"The Long March-2F rocket kept evolving as its development started at the same time as China's manned space program. The carrier rocket development is the capability and the foundation for us exploring the space," said Rong Yi, chief designer of the Long March-2F rocket at China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in an interview with China Media Group (CMG).
As China's first and only rocket type for manned missions, the Long March-2F carrier rockets have conducted 19 successful launches since they started service in 1999. They have sent out 15 Shenzhou spaceships, a target spacecraft Tiangong-1, a space lab Tiangong-2 and two reusable experimental spacecraft. Ten out of 15 Shenzhou spaceships have been manned missions.
China started its manned space program back in 1992. The Long March-2F rocket made its debut on November 20, 1999, with the Shenzhou-1 spacecraft. In 2003, China sent astronaut Yang Liwei into space and he returned safely with the Shenzhou-5 spaceship, China's first ever manned space mission.
Rong revealed that the low temperature challenged the latest launch of Shenzhou-15 manned mission in November as a sudden cold snap arrived.
"We had to add insulating layers to the rocket and the team at the launching pad also put up some fence at the site to keep the rocket in a suitable environment with a right temperature of minus 20 degrees Celsius," said Rong.
The launch has verified the capability of the China's carrier rocket to be able to adjust in different environment.
The research team designed two extra separate systems for the Long March-2F rocket which are the failure detection system and the escape tower.
Once the failure detection system has identified any major malfunction of the rocket, which is traveling at a height of less than 39 to 40 kilometers, the escape tower on top of the rocket will ignite its engine and drag the spaceship away from the rocket.
"We have designed different procedures for diverse scenarios to ensure the taikonauts escape from the malfunctioned rocket," Rong said.
The reliability of the Long March-2F rocket has substantially increased from 0.91 at the beginning to currently 0.9895 after three decades of development. Its safety reached 0.99996.
"We review the reliability of the rocket after every launch," Rong said. "The effort in design, manufacture and test behind even the slightest increase of the rocket reliability can be massive."
The rocket will be used for the more manned missions to the space station every six months as the China Space Station has been fully put into use by the end of 2022.
"Each success is the beginning of the next challenge. We will continuously pursue the success to fulfill our promise to ensure the taikonauts' safe travels and contribute to our country," Rong said.