The rockets with which China will go to the Moon and beyond: CZ-5G and CZ-9

China plans to carry out a manned moon landing around 2030. How is it going to do it? For this he needs powerful launchers and that is precisely what he has been developing for some time. The chinese moon landing plans They have been public since 2018 —although every few months they are “rediscovered” by some Western media— and, despite the fact that they are in continuous evolution, they will put a human being on our satellite around 2030. Contrary to what many people believes, the launcher chosen for the manned lunar program in a first phase will not be the Long March CZ-9, but a smaller rocket until now called CZ-5DY. However, the CZ-5DY—the initials ‘DY’ come from dengyue (登月), ‘moon landing’ in Mandarin—, also known as ‘921 rocket’ or ‘the Chinese Falcon Heavy’, appears to have been renamed and is now called the CZ-5G (长征五号改, the ‘G’ stands for apparently of gay‘evolution’, ‘change’).

Latest design of the CZ-5G (formerly CZ-5DY) will take Chinese astronauts to the Moon (Weibo).

Despite the name, the CZ-5G/CZ-5DY has little to do with the current CZ-5, other than that both are powered by liquid kerosene and oxygen engines (the CZ-5 also has a hydrogen and oxygen central stage liquids). The CZ-5G is a launcher capable of placing 70 tons in low orbit (LEO) and 27 tons in a trajectory towards the Moon (LTO). It has a height of 90 meters and three stages, all of them with a diameter of 5 meters, the first being a set of three blocks similar to SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. In each block of the first stage it uses 7 YF-100K engines, an improved variant of the YF-100 used in the CZ-5/6/7/8 with a thrust of 125 tons, although in the latest version we have seen that it may use an even newer version called the YF-100L. The three central engines will have the ability to maneuver in two axes to control the launcher and allow the recovery of the stages at a later stage. The second stage has two YF-100Ms – the vacuum version of the YF-100 – with a thrust of 146 tons, while the third stage is cryogenic and will use two YF-75E engines, an improvement on the current YF-75D of the CZ-5. The CZ-5G has a launch mass of 2,200 tons (2,187 to 2,189 tons according to the latest project submission).

Previous design of the CZ-5G/CZ-5DY in a promotional video of CASC (CASC).
Long Lehao ​​introduces the novelties of the CZ-5G/CZ-5DY/CZ-5ZRL. This was before the appearance of the designation CZ-5G (Weibo).
Future CZ-5ZRL and CZ-5G/CZ-5DY manned launchers (Weibo:@later不是我的名字).

In the last version that we have seen of the CZ-5DY/CZ-5G, the resemblance to the Falcon Heavy has increased even more. The side blocks no longer carry symmetrical aerodynamic fairings on top, but instead a common cover like the SpaceX Vector. On the other hand, the reusability mechanism—which will be introduced around 2032—looks like it will eventually be a drop-down landing gear like the Falcon Heavy after ditching the hanging-wire method. The crew escape system is a traditional solid-fuel escape tower, although previous versions have seen an exhaust system with engines at the base of the ship, like Boeing’s Starliner. The CZ-5G will be in charge of sending the new generation manned spacecraft around the Moon with three astronauts. Through another launch, a lunar module will be sent with which they will land on the surface. The first flight of this launcher is scheduled to take place around 2026. Interestingly, it won’t be until 2030 when the CZ-5ZRL version — short for zaiyuan launcher (载人火箭, ‘manned launcher’, combining English and Mandarin) — is introduced. —, a version of the CZ-5G with a single block in the first stage that will launch the new generation ship (新一代载人飞船) on low orbit missions, thus replacing the CZ-2F and the Shenzhou ships (it would not be surprising that this substitution takes place earlier). The CZ-5ZRL will be able to place up to about 18 tons in LEO.

Tests of the landing gear of the CZ-5G (CASC).
Tests in the wind tunnel of the entrance of the blocks of the CZ-5G (CASC).
The Chinese lunar landing plan using the CZ-5G/CZ-5DY, the new generation spacecraft and the Small Size Lunar Module (CASC).
Detail of the small, two-person lunar module for early lunar missions (this design may have been superseded by a larger one) (CASC).

But these changes are minor compared to those suffered by the star project of the Chinese space program: the giant CZ-9 rocket. In 2021 it was unveiled a radically different version of the CZ-9 with a monobloc design and multiple first-stage engines much more akin to SpaceX’s Starship-Super Heavy system than NASA’s SLS. That 2021 CZ-9 used 16 YF-135 engines from kerolox in the first stage, the Chinese version of the Russian RD-191 with 370 tons of thrust, while the second and third stages would be cryogenic and use 4 and 1 engine of hydrolox of 120 tons of thrust each, an engine that has apparently received the name of YF-79. Earlier this year the design took a new turn by replacing the 21 kerosene engines with 26 methane engines of 200 tons of thrust each, increasing its resemblance to the Starship system. A few months later a modification of this version appeared in which all the stages had the same diameter of 10.6 meters and with a capacity of 150 tons in LEO and 50 tons in LTO. As proof that this new CZ-9 is maturing very quickly to converge to a definitive final design, we recently learned about the third version this year.

Latest version of the CZ-9, with 24 Kerolox engines in the first stage and capable of placing 150 tons in LEO and 53 in LTO (Weibo).
Design of the 2020 CZ-9 and the 2016 versions. It is not yet clear if China will build the two versions of the CZ-9 (CASC).
Version of the CZ-9 from early 2022 with 26 methane engines in the first stage (CASC/Weibo:@later不是我的名字).
Penultimate version of the CZ-9 with all stages of similar diameter in the LEO version and the Beyond Low Orbit (Weibo) version.

This latest CZ-9 has reverted to the kerosene first stage, but instead of 16 YF-135 engines it will now use 24 kerosene engines. kerolox less powerful, 240 tons of thrust each. The first stage with the methane engines is left for later. It is clear that this decision is aimed at accelerating the deadlines to put this launcher into service as soon as possible. The rest of the stages are still cryogenic and 10.6 meters in diameter. The latest variant of the CZ-9 will be capable of placing 160 tons in LEO and 53 tons in LTO. Its height will be 114 meters and the mass at launch is the same as that of 2021: 4122 tons. Almost more interesting than the design change is the utility that China wants to give this launcher. Interestingly, lunar missions are not specifically mentioned, but deep space probes, mega-constellations of satellites and, mind you, manned missions to Mars. This Martian reference confirms that CASC is officially carrying out feasibility studies for manned missions to the red planet (it’s another matter if those plans are approved).

The closed cycle YF-90 cryogenic engine will NOT be used in the CZ-9 monobloc (Weibo).
Another view of the YF-90 (CASC).
The YF-130 will also not be used in the CZ-9 monobloc (Weibo).
Another view of the YF-130 Closed Loop (CASC).
YF-79 cryogenic engine (CASC).

As SpaceX knows from its Raptors, the key to a heavy launcher is the engines. And in that sense, the state corporation CASC is more than enough. As we have seen, the CZ-5G will use YF-100K/L/M engines, all of which are versions based on the YF-100 already in service. Precisely, recently there have been several development ignitions of the YF-100K. The same is true of the YF-75E cryogenic engine, which does not require the introduction of new technologies. As for the CZ-9, the upper stages’ 120-ton thrust YF-79 cryogenic engine has recently been tested. But it is that China was already developing the YF-90 closed-cycle cryogenic engine, with 220 tons of thrust —comparable to the RS-25 of the shuttle/SLS—, so, by its side, the YF-79 will be much simpler. to build. The same goes for motors. kerolox of the first stage. The latest version of the CZ-9 will carry 24 engines of 240 tons of thrust, but the fact is that, as we have mentioned, CASC is developing the YF-135, of 370 tons, as well as the powerful YF-130, of 500 tons and closed cycle, a kind of Chinese version of the Russian RD-180. The only unfinished business is the 200-ton thrust methane engine, although CASC has already developed the 75-ton thrust YF-209 methane engine. No one doubts that sooner rather than later that engine will be a reality. The YF-130 and YF-90 were meant to be used in the 2016 version of the CZ-9, but it is still unclear whether China has decided to drop this version and go straight to the monobloc design. Certainly, it would not make much sense to introduce a version with more powerful engines beforehand and, therefore, more expensive and complex to develop. Be that as it may, interesting times lie ahead.

Preliminary Study of Manned Voyage to Mars (CASC).

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.