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Models of Long March rockets for China’s space missions on show at the Zhuhai Air Show last year. Photo: Reuters

China successfully tests new engine for Long March 9 rocket

  • Developer says technical difficulties have been overcome in first prototype of YF-79 engine
  • It will be used for the super heavy-lift rocket designed for missions such as a crewed moon landing

China has moved a step closer to its ambition of carrying out a crewed lunar mission after it successfully tested a new engine for its super heavy-lift rocket.

Technical difficulties have been overcome in the first prototype of the YF-79 rocket engine, which is to be used for crewed moon missions and interplanetary flights, according to its developer, Beijing Astronautics Experiment Institute of Technology (BAEIT).

The announcement on Saturday came days after Nasa cancelled its Artemis 1 rocket launch to the moon for a third time.
Ground tests of the YF-79 engine were carried out on Friday, its developer says. Photo: BAEIT
Three ground tests of the new hydrogen-oxygen engine were successfully completed on Friday, said BAEIT, a unit of state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the main contractor for the country’s space programme.

BAEIT said it had conducted 12 ignition tests over a week on the new engine, as well as a high-thrust hydrogen-oxygen engine and an orbital control engine, without giving further details.

“Our teams … shortened the test cycles and increased test capacity, and achieved consecutive successes,” BAEIT said in a statement on its WeChat social media account.

The 25-tonne YF-79 is a thrust expander cycle hydrogen-oxygen engine. It is being developed for the Long March 9, or CZ-9, super heavy-lift rocket – designed for space missions such as a crewed lunar landing and exploration on Mars.

Its developers aim to make the YF-79 the most powerful rocket engine of its type, capable of multiple ignitions and powering a landing probe in its final stage.

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The CASC last year completed the key steps in the development of a second-stage engine for the Long March 9 – the YF-90, a 220-tonne supplement combustion cycle hydrogen-oxygen engine.

The Long March 9 is a three-stage rocket with boosters. A 500-tonne thrust supplement combustion cycle kerosene-oxygen engine known as the YF-130 is also under development and will be used in the first stage and as a booster.

Four YF-130s will be used in the first stage, two YF-90s in the second, and four YF-79s will be used in the third stage. The YF-130s could also be used as boosters.

Liu Bing, a designer with the CASC, said during the Zhuhai Air Show last year that the Long March 9 had been designed with capacity to deliver 15 to 50 tonnes of payload to the moon, or 12 to 44 tonnes to Mars.

Its capacity in lower-Earth orbit is 50 to 140 tonnes – comparable to the US SpaceX Falcon Heavy’s 150 tonnes and almost six times that of the Long March 5 rocket, currently China’s most powerful, at 25 tonnes.

After its Chang’e 5 space lander collected samples from the lunar surface in 2020 during an unmanned mission, China plans to send astronauts to the moon within the decade and build a permanent lunar station by 2035.

Meanwhile, the US Artemis programme – which aims to return astronauts to the moon – has been hit by delays and cost overruns since 2017. Two attempted launches of the unmanned Artemis 1 were postponed in September because of technical glitches including a fuel leak. The third launch attempt was called off last week because of Hurricane Ian. The next launch window will be in November.