January to kick-start Chinese record breaking year of up to 40 launches

by Rui C. Barbosa

The Chinese are looking to bounce back from last year’s failures that almost brought their space program to an almost standstill with a 2018 that may see as many as 40 orbital launches – smashing their previous record of 22 launches in 2016.

China will not waste any time in kick-starting this frenetic 2018, a year that will include the return of the mighty Long March 5 rocket and the launch of the flagship Chang’e-4 lunar mission to the far side of the Moon.

The year begins with “The January Chinese Space Salvo”, a month that is currently promising as many as five orbital launches.

The first launch is scheduled for January 9 when a Long March 2D launch vehicle will lift off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center carrying two civilian remote sensing satellites that will be operated by Beijing Space View Tech Co Ltd. Gaojing-1 (3) and Gaojing-1 (4) satellites will depart from the LC9 Launch Complex at around 03:20 UTC.

Long March 2D rocket – via Chinese media

The constellation is also known as SuperView-1 and will comprise of four satellites orbiting in the same orbital plane and at an altitude of 500 km.  The satellites will provide imagery with 0.5 m panchromatic resolution and 2 m multispectral resolution with a swath width of 12 km.

The satellites will operate with multiple collection modes including long strip, multiple strips collect, multiple point targets collect and stereo imaging. The maximum single scene is understood to be 60 km × 70 km.

The full constellation will be completed by 2022, comprising of a 16+4+4+X multi-sensor commercial high-resolution satellite constellation with increased capability to provide data and services to clients across the world. The full constellation will have 16 optical satellites with 0.5 resolution, 4 satellites with resolution better than 0.5, 4 VHR X-band SAR satellites and multiple micro video and hyperspectral satellites.

The SuperView-1 constellation works in multiple modes, such as imaging at nadir, rolling imaging, long strip, multiple strips collect, multiple point targets collect and stereo imaging.

Super View Promo Picture

The multiple strips collection approach is able to realize high-resolution surveying and mapping with large swath width, and the stereo imaging mode will bring large opportunities for EDM production. The SuperView services will be totally commercial and will customize data collection services and develop derived products based on marketing demands.

The Gaojing-1 satellites are based on the CAST3000B satellite platform.

Two days after the Gaojing-1 launch, China will orbit two new navigation satellites for the Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) component of the 3rd phase of the Chinese Beidou (Compass) satellite navigation system. The satellites are part of a fleet that will expand the system to a global navigation coverage.

Launch is scheduled for 2300 UTC and will use a Long March 3B/Y1 launch vehicle from the LC2 Launch Complex of the Xichang Satellite Launch Center.

It is expected that the Beidou-3MEO3 (Beidou-26) and Beidou-3MEO4 (Beidou-27) satellites will be onboard, but a TV news report following last November’s BDS launch – featuring the satellite production facility in Shanghai – referred that the two satellites about to be shipped were marked as “M7 & M8”. So, we will have to wait what designation is given to the satellites when in orbit.

China’s GPS satellites

The Compass Navigation Satellite System (CNSS) is China’s satellite navigation system, approved by the Chinese government in 2004, capable of providing continuous, real-time passive 3D geo-spatial positioning and speed measurement.

The Chinese navigation system is being developed and deployed in three phases. Phase 1 (started in 2003), consisted of an experimental regional navigation system, BeiDou-1, which provided active navigation service.

Phase 2 (started in 2012), consisted of a reduced satellite constellation and provides open service over China. This phase aimed at deploying a system with passive positioning and timing capability over a regional area.

Phase 3 aims for full operational capability by 2020 with a constellation of 27 MEOs plus 5 GEOs and the existing 3 IGSOs satellites of the regional system. CNSS would provide global navigation services, similarly to the GPS, GLONASS or Galileo systems.

Long March 3B

The next Beidou launch is expected on February 15th.

A new satellite in the Ludikancha Weixing series may also be riding into orbit on January 13. A NOTAM issued recently is very similar to the previous notices issued for similar launches. So, Ludikancha Weixing-3 might be launched around 07:20UTC from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on January 13.

The Ludikancha Weixing satellites are very high-resolution earth observation satellites. Operating in 500 km polar orbits, the satellites are possibly military in nature. We can expect another satellite in the series to be launched in 2018.

The third launch of the Long March-11 solid fuel rocket is expected on January 19 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

The launcher will carry nine satellites: the Dequing-1 (Jilin 1-07) and Jilin 1-08 for commercial remote sensing satellite for high definition video; the Xiaoxiang-2 (TY-2 Tianyi-2) to Xiaoxiang-5 (TY-5 Tianyi-5) commercial research nanosatellites that were developed by Spacety Aerospace Co. at the Changsha Gaoxinqu Tianyi Research Institute in Hunan; the Huaian CubeSat-2U developed by undergraduate students that will take pictures of the Earth surface and to store and forward voice messages; and the small CubeSat-3U Kepler communications satellite to be operated by Kepler Communications that plans to use 10 to 15 satellites in polar orbits.

Also on board will a small satellite named Quantutong-1.

The fourth group of Yaogan Weixing-30 satellites is scheduled to be launched on January 29 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center using a Long March-2C launch vehicle. Also designated CX-5 Chuangxin-5, the satellites are possibly set for SIGINT missions.

This salvo of launches will set the pattern of launch cadence for the Chinese as they look to complete a record-breaking year.

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