Like those of the United States and the Soviet Union, China’s first space launch vehicles were also developed from ballistic missiles. China started its ballistic missile programme in the late 1950s with the assistance of the Soviet Union. Inspired by the Soviet success in launching the first man-made satellite Sputnik, the Chinese leader Mao Zedong announced in May 1958 that the country would send its own satellite into space. However, the Chinese missile and space programme suffered from a major setback in 1960, when Moscow decided to withdraw its aid and advisers following the split up of the two countries.
Following the termination of Soviet assistance, China continued with its ballistic missile programme independently. In November 1960, China successfully tested the “1059 Missile”, a copy of the Soviet R-2 (SS-2 Sibling) short-range ballistic missile. In 1963, China initiated an ambitious programme to develop four types of ballistic missiles in 8 years: the short-range Dongfeng 2, the medium-range Dongfeng 3, the intermediate range Dongfeng 4, and the intercontinental range Dongfeng 5.
In April 1965, China initiated the Project 651 to send the country’s first satellite into space. The 1st Space Academy (now China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, CALT) was tasked with the design and development of the Changzheng 1 launch vehicle, with Ren Xinmin appointed as the chief designer.
The Changzheng 1 was based on the Dongfeng 4 (NATO reporting name: CSS-3), a two-stage, liquid-propellant intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM). The Changzheng 1 retained the first- and second-stage of the Dongfeng 4, and added it with an upper stage powered by a solid rocket motor. The satellite and the third-stage of the launcher were carried inside a payload fairing. The launcher was capable of sending 300kg payload to a 68.5° inclination LEO.
CZ-1 carrying the DFH-1 satellite on the launch pad (Source: Chinese Internet)
The Dongfeng 4 was first tested in November 1969 but the test failed when the first- and second-stage failed to separate. A second test in January 1970 succeeded, paving way to the launch of the first satellite.
On 24th April 1970 at 21:35:44 Beijing Time (13:35:44 GMT), the Changzheng 1 carrying the DFH-1 was successfully launched from the Pad No.5020 in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. The satellite entered its scheduled orbit in minutes later, making China the fifth country in the world to be capable of launching satellite into space.
The Changzheng 1 made a second flight on 3 March 1971, sending China’s second satellite Shijian 1 (SJ-1) into orbit, before it was retired.
CALT introduced the Changzheng 1D in the mid-1990s and the launcher made two suborbital flights in 1995 and 1997, but it was never used for any space launch.
Fengbao 1 and Changzheng 2
In the late 1960s, China began to develop more capable launch vehicles based on its Dongfeng 5 (NATO reporting name: CSS-4) intercontinental ballistic missile. The development was carried out in two parallel programmes: Changzheng 2 and Fengbao 1. The two launch vehicles were near identical in design but the Fengbao 1 had slightly higher specifications. They formed the basis for the entire Changzheng launch vehicle family introduced between the 1980s and 2000s.
The Dongfeng 5 is a two-stage rocket powered by a liquid bipropellant, with unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) as fuel and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) as an oxidiser. The first-stage consists of four parallel 75t-thrust YF-20 chambers motors with swinging nozzles. The second-stage utilises a 75t-thrust YF-22 motor with a fixed nozzle, and a swivelling venire motor with four 4.8t-thrust YF-23 chambers, which were designed for steering and sustaining propulsion for a further period of time after the shutting of the main motor, and enabling a wide aiming arc for the re-entry vehicles in the upper atmosphere.
A FB-1 on the launch pad in Jiuquan (Source: Chinese Internet)
The Fengbao 1 development began in the autumn of 1969 in Shanghai, the main base of the then leading leftist political faction of China, which later became known as the “Gang of Four”. Under the order of the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai, the 1st Space Academy in Beijing transferred the documents of its Dongfeng 5 design to Shanghai and also provided technical assistance to the Fengbao 1 programme. The first Fengbao 1 was completed 11 months after the programme started. The first suborbital flight of the Fengbao 1 took place in August 1972. Between 1972 and 1981, a total of 11 Fengbao 1 launches were carried out. Out of these only 7 were successful. The last flight of the Fengbao 1 on 19 September 1981 was China’s first multiple satellite launch, with three satellites (SJ-2, SJ-2A, and SJ-2B) being sent into orbit aboard a single launch vehicle.
The Fengbao 1 design team later evolved into the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST, also known as 8th Space Academy or Shanghai Bureau of Astronautics, SHBOA). The academy has used the Fengbao 1 technology to develop the Changzheng 4 series and the Changzheng 2D (3,100kg LEO payload).
CZ-2C (left) and CZ-2D (right) (Source: Chinese Internet)
The 1st Space Academy began to develop the Changzheng 2 in the early 1970s. The Changzheng 2 was virtually identical to the Dongfeng 5 in design. The swivelling venire motor on the second-stage was modified to continue burning for a further 200 seconds after the shutting of the main motor in order for the vehicle to climb to a 180km X 300km orbit. The development team was led by a top Chinese rocket scientist Tu Shou’e.
The Changzheng 2 was 31.17m in length and 3.35m in diameter. It had a launch weight of 192t and a launch thrust of 2,960kN, with an LEO payload capacity of 1,400kg.
The first flight of the Changzheng 2 took place on 5 November 1974 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. The launcher carried the first FSW reconnaissance satellite. Due to a failure of the cable carrying pitch rate gyro signal, the launcher exploded in the midair 20 seconds after launch, destroying the satellite onboard. A second launch was carried out successfully on 26 November 1975, sending the satellite (FSW-0 No.1) into the orbit. This was followed by further two successful launches in 1976 and 1978, before the launcher was retired and replaced by the improved Changzheng 2C with an increase LEO payload of 2,400kg.
Changzheng 3 Family
In the late 1970s, China required a new launch vehicle for the launch of the geostationary communications satellite (Project 331). CALT and SAST each introduced their own three-stage launcher designs based on the first two stages of the Changzheng 2. The Changzheng 3 design by Beijing-based CALT had a third stage that burns the liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen (LOX/LH2) propellant, while the Changzheng 4 design introduced by Shanghai-based SAST used a third stage that burns the UDMH/N2O4 propellant.
(Left to right) CZ-3, CZ-3A, CZ-3B and CZ-3C (Source: Chinese Internet)
Eventually the Changzheng 3 design by CALT was chosen for the launch of the communications satellite, but the development was shared between the two academies. CALT was in charge of the launch vehicle’s overall design as well as the development of the LOX/LH2-propellant third stage, and SAST was responsible for the development of the first and second stage.
The third-stage of the Changzheng 3 employed a four-chamber YF-73 engine that burns the LOX/LH2 propellant, producing a thrust of 16,000kg (157kN). The restarting ability of the third-stage engine allows heavier payload to be delivered to the GTO. The launch vehicle was capable of delivering 1,400kg payload to GTO, where the satellite then used its own apogee kick stage to manoeuvre to its intended position on GEO.
The Changzheng 3A introduced in 1994 featured an enlarged third-stage powered by an improved YF-75 LOX/LH2 engine. The propellant capacity was increased from 8,200kg to 17,600~18,200kg, and the GTO payload capability was increased to 2,600kg. An improved control system allowed greater flexibility for altitude control and better adaptability to a variety of launch missions.
The Changzheng 3B introduced in 1996 was based on the A model, but added with four strap-on boosters, each powered by a liquid-propellant (UDMH/N2O4) DAFY5-1 engine. This further increased the launcher’s GTO payload capability to 5,200kg.
The Changzheng 3C introduced in 2008 had 2 strap-on boosters, with a GTO payload capacity of 3,700kg.
Changzheng 4 Family
Although the Changzheng 4 design failed in the bid for the geostationary communications satellite launcher, SAST continued with the programme to develop the Changzheng 4A, a three-stage launch vehicle specifically designed for SSO launches.
The first- and second-stage of the Changzheng 4A are near identical to those of the Changzheng 2, but with enlarged fuel tanks to reach higher orbits. The third stage of the vehicle is powered by a 98kN YF-40 rocket motor that burns the UDMH/N2O4 propellant, with two swinging nozzles. The launch vehicle has a SSO payload capability of 1,500kg.
The Changzheng 4A made its maiden flight on 7 September 1988, sending China’s first meteorological satellite Fengyun 1 into the orbit. The launch vehicle made a second flight in 1990 before it was phased out and replaced by the improved Changzheng 4B, which features an increased SSO payload of 2,200kg. A further improved variant Changzheng 4C with 2,800kg SSO payload was introduced in 2006.
CZ-2E (left) and CZ-2F (right) (Source: Chinese Internet)
CALT developed the Changzheng 2E in the early 1990s as part of China’s effort to break into the international commercial space launch market. The core stage of the vehicle was based on the Changzheng 2C, added with four strap-on boosters, each powered by a 75t-thrust YF-20B motor that also burns the UDMH/N2O4 propellant, and an upper stage using an EPKM solid rocket motor. The launch vehicle was designed to send up to 3,500kg payload into GTO from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. The first launch of the Changzheng 2E took place on 16 July 1990. Out of the seven launches carried out between 1992 and 1995, only four were completely successful. The launcher was then phased out and replaced by the more capable Changzheng 3B.
In the early 1990s, CALT began to develop the Changzheng 2F for the Shenzhou manned spacecraft. The launcher was primarily based on the Changzheng 2E, but with improved reliability and removal of the third stage. The payload fairing was redesigned and added with an emergency escaping system. The LEO payload capability of the vehicle is 8,000kg. Between 1999 and 2008, the Changzheng 2F made a total of 7 flights, each time sending a Shenzhou spacecraft into orbit. The vehicle has since then been retired and will be replaced by the improved Changzheng 2F(G) featuring increased LEO payload of 11,200kg.
Changzheng 5, Changzheng 6, and Changzheng 7
China is currently developing new-generation space launch vehicles to fulfil its requirements for future space launch missions. These launchers will be powered by the 120,000kg-thrust YF-100 rocket motor that burns the Kerosene and liquid oxygen (LOX/Kerosene) liquid-propellant, and the 50,000kg-thrust YF-77 rocket motor that burns the liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen (LOX/LH2) propellant. Once commissioned, they are expected to completely replace the existing Changzheng 2, 3, and 4 series launchers within a decade.
Model of the CZ-5 (Source: Chinese Internet)
The Changzheng 5 developed by CALT is a heavy-lift launch vehicle featuring a 5m core stage and four strap-on boosters. By combining different modules, the launcher can be configured to launch up 25,000kg payload into LEO, or up to 14,000kg into GTO. The first flight of the launcher is expected take place in 2014 from the newly-built Wenchang spaceport in Hainan.
The Changzheng 6 is a launch vehicle developed by SAST, possibly as a successor to its Changzheng 2D and Changzheng 4 series launchers. The maiden flight is scheduled in 2013.
The Changzheng 7 is a medium-lift launch vehicle developed by CALT. The launcher is based on the 3.35m core stage powered by two parallel YF-100 engines, giving a LEO payload capability of 13,500kg. The vehicle will replace the existing Changzheng 2 series for LEO launches, including the human spaceflight missions. With some modifications, the launcher may also replace the Changzheng 3 series for GTO launch missions. The maiden flight of the Changzheng 7 is scheduled in 2013.