Name: Long March 2F
Manufacturer: China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT)
Dates: 19 November 1999 – Present
Total launches: 10
Height: 62 metres (203 feet)
Max payload: 8,400 kg (19,000 lb)
Total mass: 464,000 kg (1,020,000 lb)
Notable payloads: Shenzhou
The Long March family of rockets have been China’s main way to access space since their space programme stepped up a gear in the Nineties. The first flight of the upgraded Long March 2F was an unmanned test of the Shenzhou spacecraft in late 1999, with the first manned flight occurring four years later.
The Long March 2F has an enviable 100% launch record, and in the past couple of years it has been used to launch China’s first orbital space station, Tiangong-1, and take crewmembers there.
Around the central core of the rocket are four strap-on boosters that are discarded on the way to orbit, while the core and final stage are dropped higher up. Aside from Russia’s Soyuz-FG rocket, the Long March 2F is the only man-rated rocket currently in use.
Unlike previous Chinese rockets, the Long March 2F is the first to be rolled out vertically to the launchpad, like some of its European and American counterparts. It will continue to be used for manned flight for the foreseeable future.