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China launches world's most powerful solid fuel rocket

Wu Lei, Gao Yun

 , Updated 17:43, 11-Jan-2024

China on Thursday successfully launched the world's most powerful solid propellant rocket.

Developed by Chinese commercial aerospace company Orienspace, the medium-lift rocket named Gravity-1(YL-1) successfully sent three Yunyao-1 meteorological satellites into orbit in its maiden flight from waters off the coast of Haiyang City, east China's Shandong Province at 1:30 p.m. (Beijing Time).

The Gravity-1 has a total height of about 30 meters, a take-off weight of about 400 tonnes and a take-off thrust of 600 tonnes. It is capable of lifting around 6,500 kilograms of payload to low Earth orbit (LEO), or 4,200 kg to 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). It can launch multiple satellites each weighing over 100 kg as well as small cargo spacecraft weighing about 3 to 4 tonnes.

The Gravity-1 has the largest fairing in China's commercial aerospace industry. It is 4.2 meters in diameter and 9.345 meters in height, which can accommodate more payloads as well as those which are larger.

"Gravity-1 has three core stages and four boosters, all powered by solid-propellant motors and equipped with flexible swinging nozzles," said Orienspace, adding that the third stage motor can also be altered to a liquid oxygen and kerosene engine to further enhance its payload capacity.

The Gravity-1 rocket blasts off, Haiyang, east China's Shandong Province, January 11, 2024. /CFP
The Gravity-1 rocket blasts off, Haiyang, east China's Shandong Province, January 11, 2024. /CFP

The Gravity-1 rocket blasts off, Haiyang, east China's Shandong Province, January 11, 2024. /CFP

Compared with a land-based launch, a sea launch provides more flexibility, better adaptability, and a lower risk of causing trouble for populated areas.

The company Orienspace used the sea launch platform to increase the launch frequency for the future. As the infrastructures have been located at the Haiyang Oriental Aerospace Port, the whole process including general assembly and testing can be done within five km, largely reducing the need for long-distance transportation, while also shortening the preparation period and saving costs.

Private space firms are now emerging in China's aerospace market. With limited launch pads and a soaring demand for large-scale rocket launches, domestic space companies are developing more powerful and cost-effective rockets, including recoverable ones. For example, Orienspace is developing the Gravity-2, a medium-lift launch vehicle featuring recoverable core stages, and the Gravity-3, a heavy-lift carrier rocket which is fully recoverable.

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