China and Ukraine aircraft producer Antonov intend launching a technically modernized replica of the legendary six-engine powered AN-225. The rebirth of the giant freighter is part of Beijing’s ambitious space strategy.
Chinese state-owned aviation conglomerate Airspace Industry Corporation (AICC) and Ukraine aircraft producer Antonov have signed an agreement to construct a revamped version of the legendary
AN-225 transporter. China’s main aim is to use the future remake model of the giant aircraft to carry launch vehicles equipped with satellites mounted piggyback on top of the aircraft for
shooting them at great altitude into earth orbit.
The aircraft’s original mission was transporting reusable spacecraft
Being a packhorse for rockets was the freighter’s original purpose when designed and built in the Ukraine at the end of the 1980s by the Antonov Corporation. Originally, it was designed and used to transport the booster rockets Energia together with the Soviet space shuttle Buran on its back for being launched into space. The Buran was a massive 105-ton reusable spacecraft constructed by the Russians.
Two Mriyas were originally supposed to be built, however, only one was ever completed. It belongs to the fleet of Kiev-based Antonov Airlines, measures 84 meters in length and has a wingspan of 88 meters. The giant freighter, the largest of its kind worldwide, can carry loads weighing up to 190,000 kilograms.
China tapping into a €180 billion business
"The basic idea for a remake of the aircraft dates back to 2009,” said AICC President Zhang Yousheng in a statement to local Chinese media and the BBC. He went on to say: "The official contact with Antonov began in 2011, and then from 2013 to 2016 there was a stage during which this project was accelerated and the objective took clearer shape.”
Zhang explained that the program includes the development of a strategy in which the satellite is placed on the top of the aircraft’s fuselage from where it will be launched into space after the future plane has arrived an altitude of 12,000 meters.
This piggyback solution, the AICC Chief said, "will significantly reduce the costs compared to terrestrial launching." The official confirmed that China has no plans to purchase the existing AN-225 from Antonov. Instead, Beijing intends using the concept in a technically modernized application to get a foothold in the satellite business, whose value is estimated to exceed €180 billion.
When construction works on the AN-225 successor commence and which name the future aircraft will bear, Zhang left open. However, he left no doubt that the plane will be manufactured within China.