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China sends 500th Long March rocket into space

By ZHAO LEI | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-12-10 11:31

A Long March 2D carrier rocket carrying several remote-sensing satellites blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China's Sichuan province, Dec 10, 2023. [Photo/china.org.cn]

China used a Long March 2D carrier rocket on Sunday morning to place several remote-sensing satellites into space, marking the 500th launch of the Long March family.

The rocket blasted off at 9:58 am from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China's Sichuan province, spitting orange-red flames and soaring into bright skies, a spectacle caught on a video published by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, the maker of the Long March 2D series.

It was China's 59th rocket launch this year and the 13th flight of the Long March 2D model in 2023.

Of the 500 Long March liftoffs, 297 were carried out by models developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing and 203 by Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. Both academies are subsidiaries of the State-owned conglomerate China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the nation's dominant space contractor.

The Long March 2D is one of the most reliable rockets in the nation. Since its debut in August 1992, the model has been used in 85 flights, all of which have been successful. This has led to it becoming well known as the "gold medal rocket model" in China's space industry.

The 40.6-meter rocket has a diameter of 3.35 meters and a liftoff weight of 251 metric tons. Its typical tasks are to transport satellites to low-Earth or sun-synchronous orbits.

The launch vehicle is capable of sending a 1.3-ton spacecraft into a sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 700 kilometers, or satellites with a combined weight of 4 tons into a low-Earth orbit.

China launched its first carrier rocket—a Long March 1—in April 1970 to send its first satellite, Dongfanghong 1, or East Red 1, into space. The mission made China the fifth country capable of building and launching its own carrier rocket to reach Earth's orbit.

Since then, the country has developed and launched more than 20 types of Long March-series rockets, and 16 of them are in active service. In addition to the Long March family, there are multiple types of Chinese carrier rockets developed by another State-owned space contractor, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, and several private enterprises.

By now, all of these rockets have conducted 564 launches.

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