China is expanding its Wenchang spaceport to host commercial and crewed moon launches

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HELSINKI — China is aiming to expand the use of its coastal Wenchang spaceport to both allow a greater overall launch rate and establish new facilities needed for crewed lunar missions.

The Wenchang Satellite Launch Center was completed in 2014 and has since allowed China to launch its new generation kerolox and cryogenic rockets. These have in turn enabled the country to launch interplanetary and lunar missions and construct and supply its Tiangong space station.

Now though the spaceport is being expanded to additionally facilitate commercial launches and the growth of China’s commercial space sector and, eventually, launch a new-generational crew launch vehicle and the super heavy-lift Long March 9 rocket. 

The development is an apparent part of long term plans for China to upgrade its overall space capabilities.

“In the near future, Wenchang will see its launch frequency go from between six to eight times a year, to 20 or 30 times a year,” Zhong Wen’an, chief engineer of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center which oversees Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, told CCTV Dec. 31.

“This is not only a change in quantity but also one in quality. We are also going to add more sites for [the launch of] human moon-landing missions, heavy rockets and commercial ones.” Zhong said.

The crew launcher is expected to have a test launch around 2026, and a pair of the rockets could support a short-term human lunar landing mission before 2030

The Long March 9 is planned for use in construction of China’s ILRS lunar base plan and other space infrastructure projects, including space-based solar power plans.

More immediately however, progress on the commercial launch site can be seen from both aerial and satellite imagery. Wenchang has already attracted a number of launch and other space-related companies to establish facilities in the area.

China has three inland spaceports at Jiuquan in the northwest, Xichang in the southwest and Taiyuan in north China. Jiuquan has recently been expanded to facilitate both launches of commercial solid rockets and new methane-liquid oxygen rockets

The country has also begun launching from mobile platforms from the Yellow Sea, supported by infrastructure developed near Haiyang, Shandong province.

Wenchang however has a number of advantages, including the lowest latitude of any of China’s spaceports. It is also accessible by sea, allowing large diameter rocket components to be delivered there. 

China’s inland launch sites are limited in the size of rocket they can launch due to a reliance on the national railway system and its capacities. They also create debris issues downrange due to falling spent rocket stages.

China’s largest rockets, the Long March 5 and 5B, launch from Wenchang. These launch vehicles have allowed China to launch its first interplanetary mission, Tianwen-1, a first lunar sample return mission, and launch the roughly 22-ton modules that make up the Tiangong space station.