In some ways China sowed the seeds of invention for carrier rockets when it developed gunpowder and fireworks. From these very beginnings the nation is now joining the elite of the space race. Though they are crucial to space technology, the development of carrier rockets was not always straightforward and it has taken a long way to get these projects off the ground.|
China decided to develop its own satellites in the second plenary session of the 8th CPC Central Committee on May 17th, 1958. Though the carrier rocket development project had got the green light, it did not have any support from other countries, so in 1965 a special committee of top Chinese scientists was charged with the task of researching rocket technology.
In the winter of 1968, China lunched its first carrier rocket, the "Long March 1", carrying a payload of two Dongfanghong 1 satellites. Unlike its first and second-generation predecessors, the third generation Long March 1 rocket was powered by solid, not liquid, fuel. The successful launch of China's first satellite marked a new era in the country's space exploration: China had become the fifth country in the world with the capacity to launch its own satellites with a self-made rocket.
On November 5th, 1974, China launched its first large-scale liquid fueled carrier rocket, but unfortunately it was destroyed 20 seconds after launch due to an electrical failure. A year later, the "Long March 2" was successfully launched with China's first recoverable satellite onboard, making China the third country after US and the former Soviet Union with the capacity to retrieve satellites and space probes.
Later, China researched and made improvements to a series of Long March rockets such as Long March versions 2-C, 2-D, 2-E, and 3...all the way to the the Long March's 4-A and 4-B. By then China had successful launched fourteen Long March rockets, having sent satellites of a variety of sizes and functions into planned orbits.
In the early 1990's, Long March rockets started blasting off for international commercial launches. Though at first, the carrier encountered setbacks with several launch failures. On February 15th, 1996, a Long March 3-B carrier rocket fell to the ground 22 seconds after launch. It was the most significant failure China ever had in launching international commercial satellites. However, normal service was soon resumed and a Long March 3-A and a Long March 3 successfully blasted off in 1997. To date, China has had 22 commercial launches, delivering 27 foreign satellites into their designed orbits with out any incident.
In preparation for its manned space program, China sent its first spacecraft Shenzhou 1 into orbit on November 12, 1999 using the new and improved Long March 2-F rocket making China the third country, after the former Soviet Union and the US, which had the capacity to launch manned spaceships. Until September this year, Long March rockets have been successfully launched 64 times out of 70, a 90 percent success rate.
China is now starting a carrier rocket project that hopes to build a new generation of rockets, characterized by non-poisonous, non-polluting materials, low costs and high reliability.