In spite of medium and heavy Long March rockets, China space industry is going to offer variety of adequate launch vehicles especially for being continuously downsized satellites.
Please take a look on picture above and imagine that this man is holding imaging satellite. It weighs around 1 kg. Compare it to payload capacity of medium sized rocket – let’s assume that it is 3000 kg. Now consider that You are launch service provider and You want to send 30 Cubesats with weigh at 1 kg each with additional imaging satellite with weight at 50 kg in payload fairing which is able to take 3000 kg. Your customers do not want to wait – they want to use satellites to monitoring flood which started two days ago and perform science experiments in space with biological material which could not wait for long time. You are forced to wait 6 months for planned mission communication satellite to fulfill missing 2650 kg of your payload capacity. Customers are breaking contracts and choosing launch service provider with small rocket which will launch their Cubesats in short time. Congratulations, You have lost but CNSA won your contracts.
CNSA is trying to still remain up to date with modern trends in space industry. Developing own scramjet propulsion, developing own space plane and space station not to mention about advanced Moon exploration program – these are signs of China position in the world. It should not be surprise that after years of developing alternative light launch vehicles in USA, China started to develop own comparable constructions. As beginning it should be considered establishing China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC) program of developing solid fueled launch vehicle basing on Medium Range Ballistic Missile. Program started on 2000 and after two years of development new rocket called Kaituozhe 1 was ready. It consisted three solid fueled stages and liquid fueled upper stage and was based on Dong Feng 21 MRBM utilized by PLA since 1991. Launch vehicle with length at 13.6 m and diameter at 1.4 m was able to lift 50 kg of payload to SSO orbit (altitude of 400 km). Rocket was launched twice: on 2002 and 2003 from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. First attempt became failure due the problems with second stage and payload consisting 50 kg satellite failed to reach orbit. Second test launch was performed on 2003 and failed due the problems with navigation and payload separation system. Designing of next generation called Kuaizhou started on 2009. It was basing on Kaituozhe but diameter was increased to 1.7 m, height was increased to 18 m and mass to 32 t (there was halted project of enlarged Kaituozhe 2 with identical diameter). Rocket developed by China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation was still based on three solid fueled stages, but upper stage became integrated part of payload, but it became able to lift to SSO (altitude of 400 km) 430 kg of payload. Idea of combining satellite and upper stage gave possibility of increasing payload mass, simply because that there was no necessity of double fuel tanks, electric systems, separate fairings for upper stage and satellite and lack of separation mechanism. Rocket was designed to be suitable for rapid reaction in emergency situations like natural disasters, when additional support of imaging satellites is necessary. Characteristic feature of Kuaizhou is possibility of reducing time needed for launch to minimum and operating from makeshift launch sites. Rocket is transported on TEL based on Wanshan (WS) truck and launched from vertical position from special movable launch platform. According to Chinese sources, preparing rocket takes couple weeks and launch is possible in 24 hours. Kuaizhou-1 was launched on 25 September 2013 with Kuaizhou 1 satellite (designed and manufactured by Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT)) from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Spacecraft was small imaging satellite equipped with CCD camera which can swing 20° in all directions. Satellite placed on 276 km x 293 km orbit with inclination at 90.15° is under operational control of National Remote-Sensing Centre of China (NRSCC) under the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology. On 21 November 2014 CNSA performed next successful launch of Kuaizhou-1 with Kuaizhou-2 satellite on atop from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It was stated by official sources that it was general monitoring and observation satellite. Next generation of rockets appeared on 2015 as Long March 11. Designed as first fully solid fueled Chinese rocket, was based on Dong Feng 31 is able to lift 350 kg to SSO or 700 kg to LEO. Long March 11 designed by China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology is height at 20.8 m with diameter at 2 m and weight of 58 t. In spite of increasing dimensions and mass rocket is still capable to be launched from mobile platform and transported on TEL. Preparing time for start is still under 24 hours thanks to same solution taken from Kuaizhou-1 rocket – spacecraft is also upper, fourth stage of the rocket. Maiden flight of Long March 11 was performed on 25 September 2015 from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) designed also larger rocket, Long March 6 – it is height at 29 m with diameter at 3.35 m and mass at 103 t. Long March 6 is liquid fueled (it is main difference comparing to Long March 11 and Kuaizhou rocket), three stages rocket; first stage is powered by YF-100 engine (fueled with RP-1/LOX) with thrust at 1340 kN, second stage is equipped with single YF-115 engine (RP-1/LOX) providing thrust at 176.5 kN. Third stage is powered by four YF-85 (with 4 kN of thrust) fueled with H2O2/RP-1. Rocket is still capable to be transported on TEL. Maiden flight was performed from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on 19 September 2015. Both Long March 6 and Long March 11 during their first missions lift number of Cubesat satellites to orbit. On 2016 or early 2017, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation is going to present its answer for Long March 6 and Long March 11. New launch vehicle will be Kuaizhou 11 rocket. It will be solid fueled rocket able to lift 1000 kg for altitude of 700 km. Due the same low requirements for launch conditions (rocket will be still launched from mobile platform ant transported on TEL) rocket will provide launch cost for 1 kg at $10000.
Chinese space program is not divided into military and civilian part – it is crucial fact which should always be in our minds. After launching first ASAT missile (SC-19) in 2007, China is still increasing potential of PLA antisatellite weapon. Next trials in 2008 with nano satellite BX-1 or latest test launch of Dong Neng-3 missile on 9 November 2015 are showing how important ASAT weapon is for Chinese military doctrine (additional information you can find in this post). Of course every rocket described above could be utilized for commercial launches or used for other non-military purpose. But general conception of such launch vehicles makes them perfect for launching ASAT payload or at best, military reconnaissance satellites. Similar rockets were developed and tested recently in USA so Chinese trials should not be considered as a threat, but as sign that years of domination of USA and Russia are gone for good. Another aspect is fact that various civilian programs are developed around the world to decrease launch costs and make space more available. It should not be surprising that China is going to develop own launch vehicles which will meet such demands. But again, in this aspect it also seems that Russia and USA will be forced to accept China as third main player in Space.