China closes out 2020 with maiden Long March 8 launch that show hints of future reusability

Last night China launched its Long March 8 rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site on the island of Hainan in the South China Sea. This was the rocket’s maiden flight with the goal to make China’s launch services program more appealing to outside customers and in the future compete with SpaceX on reusability.

The Long March 8 is based on the Long March 7 rocket that was meant to become the workhorse rocket for the Chinese space program when it debuted in 2016. It has since only launched three times. The LM-8 takes the first stage and boosters of the LM-7 and uses the third stage of the LM-7A variant, a hydrogen-oxygen powered stage, as its second stage.

The LM-8 is considered a medium class launch vehicle, comparable to the Soyuz, Antares, or a RTLS Falcon 9, and it can carry up to 18,500 pounds to low Earth orbit. This mission carried five satellites to Sun synchronous orbit, which is a near polar orbit where the satellites pass over any given point on Earth at the same time each day. These satellites are said to be testing communication and remote sensing technologies.

The LM-8 is meant to be a cheaper commercial launch vehicle to help strengthen itself as a competitor in the launch market against companies like SpaceX and Arianespace. China also wishes to become a leader in reusable launch vehicles with plans to make a variant of this rocket called the Long March 8R, which promises to vertically land its booster and first stage on a sea platform.

It’s unsure when this will happen. Since China’s media is completely ran by the state, it’s most likely we will only hear about this when it succeeds. More reusable launch vehicles is always better for the industry if they make the cost to launch lower.

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