FIZZLE: Long March 5 Failure Casts Doubt On Chinese Space Schedule.

The unexplained launch failure on July 2 has also ruined an attempt at testing an important new spacecraft bus while also putting an end to the quantum-technology communications satellite based on that bus.

Long March 5s, China’s largest rockets, are supposed to launch the Chang’e 5 lunar probe this year and the first module of China’s planned space station next year; the timing of both missions cannot now be assured. Furthermore, two other new Chinese launchers plus another soon to enter development share much technology with the Long March 5, notably engine components, raising the possibility that the launch failure has implications for them.

China’s chief space-launcher builder, Calt, developed the Long March 5 and builds it at its new industrial base at Tianjin in northern China.

The Long March 5 that failed seemed to ascend normally from its pad at the Wechang launch base on the tropical island Hainan. But on the same day Xinhua news agency, the government’s main mouthpiece, issued a terse statement: “An abnormality occurred during the flight of the rocket. The mission has failed. Experts will analyze the cause of the fault.” The English version of the report said an abnormality had been “detected” in the flight.

The payload of the failed mission was the Shijian 18 geostationary satellite, built on the DFH-5 bus, which was to go into orbit for the first time. Exploiting the capacity of the big new bus, Shijian 18 had a weight of 7 metric tons. Apart from quantum communications technology, it featured a new type of Hall-effect electric thruster.

China had a lot riding on that flight.