Chinese commercial provider LandSpace launches Weilai-1 on a Zhuque-1 rockets – fails to make orbit

by Rui C. Barbosa

Chinese private company LandSpace launched the solid-fuelled Zhuque-1 orbital launch vehicle on its maiden flight with the small Weilai-1 satellite on October 27, 2018. Launch took place at 08:00 UTC from a mobile platform located on the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. However, the launch failed to deploy the spacecraft in the correct orbit.

This was the first time that a private Chinese company had attempted to orbit a satellite, which is aimed at opening another door on the future of China in space. It comes during a year where China is aiming to break records, with the latest launch making it 30 for the year so far, with more launches yet to come.

Weilai-1 launch was originally scheduled to take place from the Wenchang Space Launch Center but was deferred to Jiuquan due to the bad weather conditions expected for the launch day time frame.

The Beijing based LandSpace (Landspace Technology Corporation) was founded in 2015 by Tsinghua University and until now developed the Zhuque-1 solid orbital launcher and the Zhuque-2 liquid orbital launcher. Zhuque (or Vermilion Bird) is one of the four spirits in ancient Chinese mythology.

Previously designated LandSpace-1, the Zhuque-1 is a 1.35 m diameter, three-stage 19-meter-tall solid-propellant rocket. At lift-off, the rocket has a launch mass of 27 metric tons and a thrust of 45 tons. It is capable of launching a 300 kg payload into a 300 km low Earth orbit or 200 kg payload into a 500 km sun-synchronous orbit.

The Weilai-1 (Future-1) is a small satellite for space science experiments and remote sensing developed for CCTV (China Central Television).

The small satellite was based on the MinoSpace Technology’s MN10 platform and measured 0.320 by 0.295 by 0.248 meters. The launch mass was about 40 kg. The operational lifetime in a Sun-synchronous orbit was supposed to be for two years. However, this mission has now been declared as lost due to an issue in the latter part of the rocket’s flight.

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in Ejin-Banner – a county in Alashan League of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region – was the first Chinese satellite launch center and is also known as the Shuang Cheng Tze launch center.

JSLC’s main launch pad.

The site includes a Technical Centre, two Launch Complexes, Mission Command and Control Centre, Launch Control Centre, propellant fuelling systems, tracking and communication systems, gas supply systems, weather forecast systems, and logistic support systems.

Jiuquan was originally used to launch scientific and recoverable satellites into medium or low earth orbits at high inclinations. It is also the place from where all the Chinese manned missions are launched.

The LC-43 launch complex, also known as South Launch Site (SLS) is equipped with two launch pads: 91 and 94. Launchpad 91 is used for the crewed program for the launch of the Long March-2F launch vehicle (Shenzhou and Tiangong). Launchpad 94 is used for unmanned orbital launches by the Long March-2C, Long March-2D and Long March-4C launch vehicles.

Other launch zones at the launch site are used for launching the Kuaizhou, Kaituo and the Long March-11 solid propellant launch vehicles.

The first orbital launch took place on April 24 1970 when the Long March-1 rocket launched the first Chinese satellite, the Dongfanghong-1 (04382 1970-034A).

Next in line for China will be the launch of the Chinese-French oceanographic CFOSAT satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center schedule for October 29.

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