China performs two launches inside two hours

HELSINKI — China conducted its 36th and 37th orbital launches of 2022 within a couple of hours of each other starting late Monday.

A Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket lifted off into clear skies from a transport erector launcher at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert at 10:24 p.m. Eastern Sept. 5. The launch succeeded in sending the CentiSpace 1-S3 and 1-S4 satellites in orbit for Beijing Future Navigation Technology Co. Ltd. 

The CentiSpace satellites will carry out technical verification tests including navigation enhancement while in orbit.

The Kuaizhou-1A is operated by Expace, a spinoff from the giant state-owned missile and defense contractor China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). 

The rocket is capable of carrying 200 kilograms of payload into a 700-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

The first launch took place in January 2017 and the rocket has now flown 17 times overall. The three times since June, when it made a return-to-flight after suffering its second launch failure in December 2021. Last month the rocket launched from Xichang spaceport for the first time.

Kuaizhou solid rockets were planned to launch an 80-satellite narrowband constellation  named Xingyun for CASIC and its subsidiaries. However, Kuaizhou-1A failures in 2021 and 2020, and the loss of the only flight so far of the larger Kuaizhou-11 have apparently delayed the project.

One hour and 55 minutes later, at Xichang in southwest China, a Long March 2D lifted off from Xichang, delivering a fifth batch of Yaogan-35 triplets into a predetermined orbit. 

A pair of the satellites were developed by the Beijing-based China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), with the final spacecraft provided by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST). CAST and SAST subsidiaries of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s main space contractor.

It is the fourth group of three Yaogan-35 satellites launched since June, all from Xichang on Long March 2D rockets. The first group launched in November 2021 and the previous set launched Aug. 19.

A mission patch in SAST’s press release indicates that Tuesday’s launch included a 25 square meter drag sail on the payload adapter, following a trend set by the June Yaogan-35 (02) launch.

Chinese state media reports state that the satellites will be mainly used to conduct “scientific experiments, land resource surveys, agricultural product yield estimation, and disaster prevention and reduction.”

Yaogan means “remote sensing” and Western analysts believe the overall Yaogan satellite series to be designed to provide a comprehensive military surveillance system, made of optical, radar and electronic reconnaissance capabilities.

The new set are expected to join the earlier groups in orbits of roughly 500 by 495 kilometers with an inclination of 35 degrees, providing frequent revisits over areas of interest. 

The mission was the 64th Long March 2D launch which has suffered a solitary partial failure. CASC stated last month that it was developing a version of the 2D utilizing kerosene-liquid oxygen engines with an eye on reusability and reducing use of toxic hypergolic propellant.

CASC is planning more than 50 launches across 2022 and recently began the launch campaign for the third and final Tiangong space station module.

Chinese companies including Expace, Galactic Energy, Landspace, iSpace and CAS Space are also conducting their own launches during the year.

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