Long March 6 roars into operation

China’s latest launch vehicle, the Long March 6 (or Chang-Zheng 6), blasted off from Taiyuan Launch Center over the weekend, placing a swarm of twenty nanosatellites into orbit on its first operational flight.  This new rocket marks a radical change from previous Long March family rockets, and its clear in its unique look that this is not an evolved version of a previous rocket but a wholly new beast.  Most notably, you might see something different in its plume; unlike the vast majority of Chinese rockets, this doesn’t use the hypergolic combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, but instead uses the more efficient kerosene and liquid oxygen.

China has released few technical details about the rocket, but it is believed to use the same engine as the Long March 5, in development for years and set to make its first flight later this year.  Long March 5 will have sufficient power to support the upcoming robotic lunar sample return mission.

Long March 6, unlike Long March 5, is not particularly powerful; its primary job will be launching swarms of nanosatellites.  But it will be much more efficient.  This mission sets a record for the most payloads deployed from a single Chinese rocket.  (The worldwide record is I believe held by Russia at present.)

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