China Great Wall Reaffirms Commitment to $70 Million Long March Launches

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BEIJING — The company selling Chinese Long March rockets on the commercial market said Sept. 24 that it is maintaining prices for telecommunications satellite missions at about $70 million, a price it says is backed by a 96 percent success record over 181 flights as of Sept. 23.

In a series of presentations here, officials from Chinese government agencies and China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC), the company that markets the Long March vehicle, said the Long March rocket has established itself with domestic and export demand despite the 15-year ban on U.S.-built satellite launches aboard Chinese rockets.

Until Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., arrived on the scene with advertised launch prices that bested even those of the Chinese, the Long March was considered the low-cost option among providers of rockets carrying satellites to geostationary transfer orbit, where most communications satellites are dropped off in orbit.

CGWIC officials point out that SpaceX has yet to prove its ability to maintain its prices — between $58 million and around $65 million for commercial customers — as it inaugurates its Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket and ramps up production to meet the company’s large commercial backlog.

Nineteen Long March missions were carried out in 2012, all successful. Half of them were into geostationary transfer orbit.

Chen Xin of CGWIC’s launch services program management office said Sept. 24 during the 64th International Astronautical Congress that China’s rocket builders are comfortable with an annual production rate of 20 rockets, including all Long March versions.

Depending on the mission, Long March vehicles are launched from any of three spaceports on Chinese territory.

Chen said that as the average annual launch rate has increased, from five per year in 2005 to 19 in 2012, logistical stresses have been placed on the Long March management team, a development she said argues for stronger oversight on the part of CGWIC.