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50 Long March 8 carriers a year: this is how China wants to crush SpaceX and StarLink

China's rocket industry is about to get a huge boost. The country is building an unprecedented rocket assembly plant capable of producing 50 Long March 8 rockets a year, according to scientists involved in the project.
When completed next year, the mega factory on the tropical island of Hainan will nearly double China's annual launch capacity, already one of the largest in the world.

According to available information, no other existing plant is capable of producing rockets at that rate. Last year, Elon Musk's SpaceX logged 61 launches, most of them with reusable Falcon rockets.

The Long March 8 is a low-cost, non-reusable rocket that can accommodate more than 20 Starlink-sized communications satellites. China intends to use this medium-sized launch vehicle, which has already conducted two successful test launches, to send more than 1,000 satellites into space annually, a rate comparable to SpaceX's current rate.

The new rocket is also designed to put satellites in a higher orbit than Starlink satellites. The more advantageous altitude would allow Chinese satellites to monitor or even suppress their American rivals.

The rush to " build a giant satellite constellation is leading China's space industry into a new era ," said Song Zhengyu, rocketry expert at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), who leads the Long March 8 team. , in an article published last month in the Chinese Journal of Astronautics.

A strongly stimulated production for military purposes

In an effort to catch up with SpaceX's Starlink program, China plans to launch nearly 13,000 satellites, on top of the more than 4,000 it currently has in orbit. According to some PLA scientists, the project – codenamed "GW" – has the specific purpose of suppressing global Starlink services in the event of war.

However, according to Song and his colleagues, China's current range of rockets is not up to the task. Existing Long March rockets are either too small or too big. The Long March 8 was designed to fill this gap, with unprecedented efficiency. It is capable of meeting more than 90 percent of China's follow-up launch mission requirements for medium and low Earth orbits,” Song said.

An industrial change

Traditional rocket manufacturing involves workers assembling several components and then delivering them to the rocket at a fixed point. The rocket itself doesn't move along the line, but stays in one place while the workers move around it to complete their tasks.
Some modern rocket manufacturers have begun adopting impulse assembly techniques — similar to those used in fighter jet production — to speed assembly and reduce costs. A sort of assembly line, but adapted to high-tech products

SpaceX has developed an automated system called the "Falcon 9 Integrated Assembly Line" that uses synchronized pulses to move rocket components through the assembly process quickly and efficiently. The method allows SpaceX to produce more rockets at a lower cost than traditional methods.
The Long March 8 factory in Wenchang, Hainan will be similar to SpaceX's but also have some unique advantages, according to Song's team.

To be effective, a pulse assembly line must have a constant supply of high-quality components that can be quickly assembled into the final product.
In China, this task can be accomplished with relative ease and at competitive cost, as the country has the largest manufacturing capacity in the world for many industrial products, including those requiring high levels of accuracy and consistency.

Reduce the price of the Long March

According to a recent report by researchers at the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the country's largest rocket manufacturer, getting a 1 kg payload to low orbit (LEO) with current Long March rockets costs about $3,000, a similar price to that of SpaceX's Falcon 9 reusable rockets.

Song's team said it has found ways to further reduce the costs of the Long March 8, some of which have never been attempted before.
Modal testing is a painstaking process that measures a structure's natural frequencies and mode shapes, which can help engineers understand how the structure will behave under different loads and conditions. Historically, rockets that have not undergone modal testing have experienced major failures. Long March 8 was the world's first rocket to fly successfully without the need for full-scale modal tests. Instead, the scientists used the simulations to obtain dynamic parameters that enabled successful launches, even after canceling the boosters and replacing the fairings.

By using the latest digital design and simulation tools, “the development cycle was shortened by 12 months and a lot of testing funds were saved,” the document reads. Chinese scientists also developed a new method for guiding and controlling the rocket during flight, which involves alternating powered flight and gliding to optimize the rocket's trajectory.
Specifically, during the early part of the second flight stage, the rocket glides along a suborbital path to a specific target. Then, during the latter part of the second stage, it switches to powered flight to reach final orbit.

This method allows for more precise control of the rocket's trajectory and can help it adjust for deviations from its intended path. It is difficult to make because it requires precise timing and coordination between the different phases of the rocket's flight.
Gliding in space is difficult because there is no air resistance to help control the rocket's motion. According to Song's team, the new method represents a key advance in rocket technology that could improve the accuracy and efficiency of space missions.

So SpaceX will often find itself facing a fierce and technologically very advanced opponent, who also takes advantage of important state subsidies. Another chapter in the China-USA challenge.

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The article 50 carriers Long March 8 per year: this is how China wants to crush SpaceX and StarLink comes from Economic Scenarios .

This is a machine translation of a post published on Scenari Economici at the URL https://scenarieconomici.it/50-vettori-lunga-marcia-8-allanno-ecco-come-la-cina-vuole-schiacciare-spacex-e-starlink/ on Thu, 25 May 2023 16:41:17 +0000.