Chinese KZ-1A returns to flight and lofts new remote sensing satellite into orbit

by Tobias Corbett

A Chinese Kuaizhou 1A (KZ-1A) rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Inner Mongolia at 06:19 UTC on September 27, lofting a new high-resolution remote sensing satellite into orbit.

The rocket lifted off from Site 95 at Jiuquan, marking the 14th flight of a KZ-1 series rocket. This was also the first KZ-1 launch since the Jilin-1 Gaofen-02C launch in September 2020, which ended in failure and the loss of its payload.

China’s KZ-1A rocket is manufactured by the ExPace Technology Corporation, an aerospace company owned by the Chinese government, based out of Wuhan in China’s Hubei province. The rocket is capable of delivering payloads of up to 200 kg into a Sun-Synchronous Orbit, and therefore is mainly marketed as a small satellite launch vehicle. 

ExPace is also in charge of managing the launch, as it has been for all previous flights of the KZ-1A vehicle.

The 20 meter long rocket utilizes four stages, the first three of which are solid-fueled. The first of the three solid fuel stages has a burn time of 65 seconds and an impulse of 2,352 N/kg. The second burns for 62 seconds with an impulse of 2,810 N/kg, followed by a third stage burn lasting 55 seconds with an impulse of 2,850N/kg.

The fourth and final stage is powered by a liquid-fueled engine and serves as the orbital insertion stage.

The most recent flight of a KZ-1A, which was intended to deliver the Jilin-1 Gaofen-02C satellite into orbit, ended in failure after “abnormal performance” was detected coming from the launch vehicle, following which the payload failed to enter its pre-set orbit. Today’s launch serves as a return to flight, following an investigation into the cause of the failure on last year’s flight.

Jilin-1 Gaofen-02D, the 250 kg satellite carried into orbit on today’s launch, is the fifth in the Jilin-1 Gaofen-2 series of remote sensing satellites. It is the third to successfully reach orbit following the failures of the previously mentioned Goafen-02C launch last September, and the failed launch of Gaofen-02E in July of the same year. 

The Gaofen-2 series of satellites are developed and built by the Chang Guang Satellite Technology Corporation, which specializes in the design and operation of remote sensing satellites for commercial use.

Artists impression of a Jilin-1 Gaofen-02 spacecraft – via Chang Guang Satellite Tech Company

The spacecraft is believed to have an operational altitude of 535 km above the surface of Earth, and be able to obtain a static push-scan image with a full-color resolution better than 0.76 meters and a multi-spectral resolution better than 3.1 meters. Images are transmitted to the ground stations via digital transmission with a rate of 1.8Gbps. 

Gaofen-02D – the fifth Gaofen-02 spacecraft – joins multiple other types of Jilin-1 series remote sensing satellites in orbit, all of which were built by Chang Guang Satellite Technology. Other Jilin-1 satellites in orbit include the two Jilin-1 Kuanfu-01 series spacecraft, which focus on providing high definition video from orbit, and the single Jilin-1 Guangexe-A optical imaging satellite. Overall there are at least 16 currently operating Jilin-1 spacecraft in orbit. 

The company plans to have approximately 138 Jilin satellites in orbit by 2030. Altogether, these will perform 24/7 all-weather, full-spectrum acquisition segment data and a capability of observing any global arbitrary point with a 10-minute revisit capability. This will create the world’s highest spatial resolution and time resolution space information products.

(Lead photo via Xinhua)

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