China tests new engine for huge Long March 9 moon rocket

The United States is not alone in wanting to establish a research base on the moon. China and Russia have been discussing an International Lunar Research Station at the south pole of the moon, to begin operating in the 2030s.
China plans to build a base near the moon's south pole, in cooperation with Russia, in the 2030s. China is developing a new super-heavy-lift rocket called the Long March 9 to help achieve these and other ambitious deep-space goals. (Image credit: CNSA/Roscosmos)

Chinese engineers have conducted a successful hot fire test of a new, powerful engine for the nation's planned super heavy-lift rocket for moon missions.

The closed-cycle rocket engine uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant and can generate 25 tons of thrust, making it one of the most powerful such engines ever made, according to the engine’s developer.

The engine was developed (opens in new tab) by an institute specializing in liquid propulsion under the ownership of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China’s state-owned main space contractor.

Related: China's Long March rocket family: History and photos

The new engine is around three times more powerful than the current most capable liquid hydrogen-oxygen upper stage engine in use in China. 

The engine is believed to be designed to power the third stage of China’s planned Long March 9 rocket. The launch vehicle is in development for missions to the moon and even Mars, and will be comparable to NASA's iconic Saturn V or the larger versions of the American space agency's huge new deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System.

The Long March 9 is currently expected to have its test flight around 2030 and would be expendable. 

CASC has already made progress (opens in new tab) in testing even larger, more powerful new engines for the first and second stages of the Long March 9, meaning the new test is another step forward toward China greatly boosting its space launch capabilities. 

However, China is also considering revamping and altering its super heavy-lift rocket plans to pursue reusability. New presentations of reusable Long March 9 rocket concepts by senior Chinese space officials have come in the wake of the progress made by SpaceX on its reusable rockets and the huge new Starship system.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).