Chinese scientists have successfully tested a new engine for the long-awaited, heavy-lift Long March 9 rocket.
Called TF-79, the engine was developed by the Beijing Astronautics Experiment Institute of Technology (BAEIT) for China’s crewed moon missions and possibly interplanetary expeditions.
TF-79’s development period suffered early setbacks but, after addressing the length and capacity of each test cycle, engineers recorded 12 successful ignition tests on the prototype.
A subsidiary of the Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), BAEIT also completed tests on a high-thrust engine and an orbital control engine, without providing further details.
The TF-79 is the most powerful unit of its kind and forms part of Long March 9’s three-stage design.
Tipping the scales at 25 tonnes, TF-79 is classified as a thrust expander cycle hydrogen-oxygen engine and can perform the multiple ignitions needed to power a landing craft in near-orbit ranges.
Long March 9 or ‘CZ-9’ will house two other engine unit types, YF-130 and YF-90.
The 500-tonne YF-130 is a first-stage boost supplement engine still being tested. It is fuelled by an oxygen-rich kerosene mixture, providing much of the initial thrust required to exit Earth’s orbit.
YF-90 is a liquid hydrogen-oxygen combustion supplement engine that weighs 220 tonnes and, according to CASC, has completed fundamental steps in its development phase. It is the second most powerful engine of its class after the American-built RS-25.
Each CZ-9 rocket will house four YF-130s, two YF-90s, and four YF-79s, according to South China Morning Post.
While making an appearance at the 2021 Zhuhai Air Show, Liu Bing, told press the Long March 9 is capable of delivering payloads weighing anywhere between 15 and 50 tonnes to the moon. Liu, a member of CASC, said the same configuration could transport 12 to 44 tonnes to Mars.
The CZ-9 will have similar low-orbit capacities to the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, and almost six times more than the Long March 5, when in service for the Chinese National Space Administration (CNSA).
China has ramped up its space programme significantly. In 2020, CNSA successfully completed an unmanned mission to the moon, bringing back priceless samples in the process.
Now the race is on for BAEIT to deliver the Long March 9 in time for CNSA’s planned mission to build a permanent base on the moon by 2035.