China’s Long March-5 rocket: 30 years in the making

CCTV News

Developers in the hangar where the Long March-5 was developed. Developers in the hangar where the Long March-5 was developed.

It’s the fourth day since the Long March-5 carrier rocket was launched. The launch was a milestone for the country, and for the thousands of Chinese space workers who have spent years with the rocket. Over 90 percent of the technology is being used for the first time.

CCTV’s Gavin Blackburn gave us this report.

China's Long March-5 rocket: 30 years in the making

China's Long March-5 rocket: 30 years in the making

It's the fourth day since the Long March-5 carrier rocket was launched. The launch was a milestone for the country, and for the thousands of Chinese space workers who have spent years with the rocket. Over 90 percent of the technology is being used for the first time. CCTV's Gavin Blackburn gave us this report.

It’s the rocket known as the “Chubby Five”. The Long March-5 has been 10 years in the design and development. It is nicknamed Chubby, for both its appearance, and how it’s been fed to bursting by the sweat and dreams of Chinese space workers over 30 years.

Chubby is the most complex in the Long March family. The large thrust engine was one of the biggest challenges during its development.

The Long March-5 engine is powered by liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. The high-performance fuel is environmental friendly. But it’s also dangerous. Wang Weibin,the deputy chief designer, remembers one test in 2012.

An accident in 2012 was one of several setbacks in the development of the rocket.

An accident in 2012 was one of several setbacks in the development of the rocket.

“In an oxygen-rich environment, the metal becomes fuel,” Wang said. “It took only a few seconds to melt the engine into a pile of scrap iron. The deadline was set for completing the engine and the rocket launch, and we were under a lot pressure.”

The team had to go back to the drawing board 114 times before they succeeded.

They managed to nearly double the reliability of the engine, making the launch possible.

Team of the Long March-5

There are thousands of other members of the Long March-5 family like Wang Weibin. They consider the launch site as home. A 30-hour work day is routine.

“The feeling is like parents sending their kids to take the college entrance exam, and they wait outside,” said Li Dong, Long March-5 chief designer. “At the moment before launch, you try to relax, but you can’t.”

The Long March-5’s launch on Thursday also carried the space workers’ hopes and dreams. They may be able to relax for bit, but like proud parents, they’ll miss their Chubby Five.