NEWTOWN, Conn. - The Long March 7 fills the midsize launcher role in China's new launch vehicle lineup. The launch vehicle family, which also includes the Long March 5 and Long March 6, is designed to increase Beijing's launch capabilities.
The Long March 7 is an important part of China's space plans because it will give Beijing the ability to carry payloads of up to 13.5 metric tons into low-Earth orbit. Until now, China could only carry up to 8 metric tons into LEO. The larger payload capacity will allow China to increase the size of its reconnaissance and science satellites. It will also enable China to launch larger space station modules and carry supplies to its space stations.
China has ambitious human spaceflight plans. The Long March 7 will carry supplies to Chinese astronauts in low-Earth orbit as it did in April 2017 when it launched the Tianzhou-1 cargo transfer vehicle to the Tiangong-2 space habitat. It may also someday replace the Long March 2F in carrying crews to space stations.
In addition, the Long March 7 will replace the Long March 3 in carrying geosynchronous communications satellites to orbit.
While the Long March 7 will find a ready market in China, it could face a difficult international market. Like the Long March 3, the Long March 7 will not be allowed to carry satellites with U.S.-sourced components. Moreover, the Long March 7 will have a hard time competing on price with SpaceX's Falcon 9.
Nonetheless, the launch vehicle will likely receive some contracts to launch payloads for other governments and organizations, especially in countries not able to use Western equipment, such as Venezuela. These contracts will also boost production levels.
Production of the Long March 7 is expected to increase steadily through the mid-2020s to meet the demands of the Chinese government, as well as international customers. After that point, production will level off at around 10 per year.