China’s most powerful rocket plunged into the ocean soon after its launch last summer, temporarily halting hopes to send a vehicle to the moon to fetch lunar samples.
A Chinese rocket ‘choked to death’ after launch last year, say scientists
The failure of the rocket was seen as a huge setback for China’s space program. Now Chinese scientists believe they have figured out where things went wrong.
The rocket “literally choked to death,” said a scientist at Beihang University’s School of Astronautics in Beijing.
Just six minutes after blast-off on July 2, the first stage of the Long March 5 rocket “suddenly lost a significant amount of thrust,” according to a statement issued by the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence.
The problem was caused by a turbofan in one of the main engines, the statement said, without elaborating.
Turbofans in rocket engines perform a similar function to the lungs in the human body, breathing a mixture of liquid oxygen and hydrogen into a combustion chamber that is ignited to produce thrust.
The Beihang University scientist told the South China Morning Post the rocket was “like flying with a collapsed lung” after one of its turbofans failed. The scientist asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The official statement on Monday said the turbofan had since been redesigned and put through several rounds of testing.
The Long March 5 rocket uses some of the largest liquid rocket engines in service anywhere in the world. The first version of it was successfully launched into orbit in 2016.
It has the power to lift a 27-ton payload – such as the core module of a space station – into low Earth orbit, or send a 16-ton satellite into geostationary orbit, more than 19,000 miles above the planet.
A new generation of the Long March 5 rocket will be ready to launch, on an unspecified mission, by the end of the year, the Chinese government said.
China had planned to use the Long March 5 to power its Chang’e 5 mission to land an unmanned rover on the moon and return with rock and soil samples.
The mission was originally expected to take place next year, but it has likely been delayed by the failed launch.
Chang’e 5, named after the Chinese moon goddess, will be the first Lunar sample-return mission since the Soviet Union’s 1976 mission, Luna 24.