Chinese Chang Zheng 2D launches commercial Earth observation satellite and secondary payloads

by Tobias Corbett

A Chinese Chang Zheng 2D rocket has successfully lofted four satellites into Low Earth Orbit. The primary spacecraft on board was Beijing-3, a commercially developed and operated Earth observation satellite.

The Chang Zheng, known outside of China as the Long March 2D, lifted off from Launch Complex 9 at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, located in Shanxi province in Northern China, at 03:03 UTC on June 11 (11:03 PM local time).

Beijing-3 is a 0.5 meter resolution Earth observation satellite co-operated by Twenty First Century Aerospace Technology, a Beijing based aerospace company that specializes in providing Earth Observation services, and DFH Satellite Co, another Chinese based company that has produced around one third of Chinese satellites currently in orbit.

Despite being named Beijing-3, the satellite is actually set to become the fifth in a constellation of Earth observation spacecraft in Low Earth Orbit.

Beijing-1, also known as China-DMC+4, was an Earth observation microsat launched aboard a Russian Kosmos-3M launch vehicle in 2005. The satellite was operated by Beijing Landview Mapping Information Technology (BLMIT), of which Twenty First Century Aerospace Technology was a customer, leasing usage rights of the data gathered by Beijing-1, which they would then market to other customers, the largest of which being the Chinese government. It is unknown if Beijing-1 is still operational.

Beijing-2 was a constellation of three satellites. Also known as Disaster Monitoring Constellation Three (DMC-3) or TripleSat, Beijing-2 consisted of three identical Earth observation spacecraft operated by DMC International Imaging (DMCii).

The three Beijing-2 spacecraft launched aboard an Indian PSLV-XL rocket in 2015, and like with Beijing-1, Twenty First Century Aerospace was an customer, leasing data usage rights for information gathered by the constellation.

The Beijing-2 spacecraft were notable in their use in disaster relief, including providing high resolution imagery of the damaged areas during the 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake to assist management processionals in their efforts to keep effected people safe.

The three Beijing-2 spacecraft prior to launch – via Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd

Unlike Beijing-3, the four satellites that made up the previous two Beijing constellations were designed and built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), a spacecraft manufacturer based in the United Kingdom. Beijing-1 was built off of SSTL’s SSTL-150 spacecraft bus, while the three Beijing-2 spacecraft were built off the company’s SSTL-300S1 satellite bus.

Beijing-3 has been developed by Twenty First Century Aerospace and the previously mentioned DFH Satellite Company, also known as DFHSat, a departure from the multi-national collaborations that built the previous Beijing series spacecraft. DFHSat has had a hand in building over one-third of the Chinese satellites currently orbiting the Earth, so working with the Chinese government and space industry is nothing new to them.

The spacecraft will be capable of providing high definition Earth imagery with a resolution of up to 0.5 meters. Based on the CAST3000E satellite bus, Beijing-3 utilizes autonomous mission planning and in-orbit image processing to provide continuous imaging services.

The imaging collected by Beijing-3 will be used to support land and resource management, agriculture studies, environmental monitoring, and urban planning.

The Beijing-3 spacecraft also differs from its counterparts because 21AT will own and operate the satellite, not just act as a customer leasing data rights from another company operating their own Earth observation spacecraft.

In addition to Beijing-3, a trio of secondary payloads were also launched. The second payload is Haisi-2, a satellite jointly developed by DFH Satellite Co and Xiamen University.

The Wangwang-1 satellite prior to launch – via Weibo

Haisi-2’s mission is a remote sensing operation to observe the environment of coastal and inland waters for marine research. The satellite also acts as a technology demonstrator for ocean remote sensing satellites, and can serve disaster relief support.

Another payload on board is Wangwang-1, a commercial optical astronomy satellite developed by DFH Satellite Co. The satellite will primarily conduct observations of asteroids, their orbits, and their resources.

The Tianjian Space Test-1 satellite, the fourth and final payload on board the launch, will carry out testing and verification of satellite health management technology. The satellite is developed in part by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, a subordinate of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation which operates the Chang Zheng family of launch vehicles and is the primary contractor for the Chinese space program.

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