China details next generation crew launcher; Venezuela joins the Lunar base

by Adrian Beil

China’s impressive launch cadence took a break in July 2023 with only three launches from Chinese pads in the month, with one being the high-profile second flight of ZhuQue-2. Additionally, China announced new rockets and launched Starlink-equivalent test satellites.

Chang Zheng 2C/YZ-1S | 2 x SatNet test satellites

Chang Zheng 2C (CZ-2C) took flight at 11:00 UTC on July 9 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China. On board was the Weixing Hulianwang Jishu Shiyan payload, which was confirmed to be an internet constellation satellite technology pathfinder.

It was later confirmed that the payload consisted of two satellites launched to a 1,095 by 1,117-kilometer low-Earth orbit inclined at 86.5°. Similar internet constellation test satellites were established in 2021 and 2022, which seems to be underlining the ongoing effort of China to build a competitor to networks like Starlink or Iridium.

CZ-2C on the pad after tower retraction. (Credit: CASC)

Another notable feature of this launch was using the YZ-1S upper stage — an optional upper stage that can be featured on top of CZ-2C to assist in the final orbital adjustment and insertion maneuvers. This mission marked its fifth flight.

CZ-2C is a two-stage orbital rocket manufactured by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. It is a small launch vehicle used for lighter payloads. At liftoff, the rocket masses 233,000 kilograms and stands 42 meters tall, with a train-track friendly diameter of 3.35 meters.

ZhuQue-2 | Flight 2

LandSpace took the title of the first methane-based rocket in the world to reach orbit with the second flight of its ZhuQue-2 (ZQ-2) rocket. On July 12, at 01:00 UTC, the rocket successfully launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and reached orbit with its test payload.

Before this flight, rumors arose about LandSpace’s problematic financial situation. With the success of ZQ-2, the company is now in an excellent position to negotiate for more contracts, especially flights from smaller early-generation Chinese rockets, such as CZ-2C.

ZhuQue-2 launching. (Credit: LandSpace)

ZQ-2 is a completely methane-based rocket, with liquid oxygen and CH-4 propellants powering both the first and second stages. The TQ-12 engines on the first stage will soon be upgraded to the TQ-12A, which will allow for more payload capacity and reusability of the rocket. The second stage will also be upgraded and eliminate the four vernier engines on the stage site, as the nozzle can move independently.

ZQ-2 flight three might only be months away, as the company started assembling the rocket for the next flight. Pictures of the hardware in the LandSpace hangar were shared on social media.

Kuaizhou 1A | Tianmu-1 07-10

A Kuaizhou 1A with the Tainmu-1 07-10 payload launched on Thursday at 03:20 UTC. The launch occurred from Pad 95A at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China.

The payload was four small meteorology satellites that use global navigation satellite system radio occultation. The satellites provide commercially used meteorological data. This is already the third batch of Tianmu satellites, after the initial launch of two satellites in January and four more launched in March.

Tianmu is a constellation operated by Xiyong Microelectronics, a China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation subsidiary. Currently, there are ten satellites for the weather constellation orbit.

China unveils new rockets

In a recent presentation, pictures of the launch vehicle that would launch the next-generation human spacecraft of China were shared. It will be a two-stage version of the Chang Zheng 10 (CZ-10), called Chang Zheng 10-A, which will be able to launch both crewed and cargo missions. The rocket will be powered by seven YF-100k RP-1 engines, providing a liftoff thrust of 892 tonnes.

The rocket’s main body will be 67 meters tall, and like other CZ-10 concepts, features the idea of reusability. This time, China proposes a sea platform with a string net attached, where the rocket can land in the strings to be reused. When reused, the rocket can lift up to 14 tonnes into low-Earth orbit, which puts it roughly in the same ballpark as Falcon 9.

According to current information, the rocket will use grid fins to guide itself to the sea platform, then, according to recent news, will then use all seven engines to slow itself down before using the center engine for the final catch in the strings.

Venezuela joins China’s moonbase

Venezuela has joined the International Lunar Research Station (IRLS) — the program is establishing a lunar research base on the Moon in the 2030s. The declaration includes demonstrating the technology, engineering cooperation, and operation of the IRLS, including joined scientific efforts.

The IRLS is a combined effort of multiple countries, including Russia and China, to construct a Moon base.  The first phase of the IRLS will start with the Chang’e missions in the next few years and will begin construction in the 2020s and early 2030s. The utilization of the station is planned for 2036 or later.

(Lead image: The KZ-1A rocket after liftoff. Credit: CASC)

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