Longest-serving rocket celebrates 40th launch debut anniversary

The first Long March-2C Longest-serving rocket was launched 40 years ago over a desert in northwest China, sending a retrievable satellite into orbit. The model has since become a backbone launch vehicle for the country’s interplanetary expeditions.

Longest-serving rocket celebrates 40th launch debut anniversary

After its maiden flight on Sept. 9, 1982, the rocket gradually replaced the older Long March-2 and undertook all of the country’s retrievable satellite launches in the following decade. Following several upgrades, the Long March-2C is currently 43 meters long, and its carrying capacity to low Earth orbit has increased from 1,800 kg to 2,500 kg. It is China’s longest-serving carrier rocket and is on the brink of a salvo of new launches. The Long March-2C is the first Chinese carrier rocket type to undertake international launch services. In the 1980s, the rockets sent a French company’s microgravity test device and a Swedish science test satellite into space. In 2003, a Long March 2C/SM rocket delivered a satellite, which belonged to a space probe program jointly carried out by China and the European Space Agency. The successful international launches were only part of many significant achievements by the Long March-2C.

Over the past four decades, the rocket has pioneered many upgrades and new rocket technologies to make more advances. The latest example occurred in 2019 when scientists tested a technology that can accurately control the landing site of falling rocket parts following a Long March-2C rocket launch. The test results showed that the technology narrowed the landing areas from 1,350 to 60 square km by more than 96 percent, massively improving China’s inland rocket landing safety. Ma Huiting, chief commander of the Long March-2C at the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, said the rocket has the advantages of high reliability, short launch cycle, and moderate carrying capacity. It currently conducts the launches of remote sensing satellites, scientific research satellites, and commercial satellite constellations. According to Ma, the longest-serving Long March rocket will continue to shoulder more missions for the country. It will maintain an annual launch frequency of more than ten times during the 2021-2025 period.

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