China launches four rockets and outlines future lunar mission

by Adrian Beil

China has picked up its launch cadence in the last two weeks as they continue to push forward in its ambitious 2023 launch schedule. Not only did they launch three rockets from the Chang Zheng family in a short period of time, but also Gushenxing-1 from Site 95A at Jiuquan joined the mix with the “Lemon Tree” mission.

What’s more, the country outlined plans for its upcoming Chang’e-7 lunar mission. While on the surface of the Moon, the Chang’e-7 lander is planned to drill into the lunar surface in search of water ice.

Gushenxing-1 | Lemon Tree

On July 22, at 05:07 UTC, a Gushenxing-1 rocket took flight from Jiuquan. The rocket carried two satellites to orbit, Qiankun-1 and Xingshidai-16, which were later confirmed to be successfully released from the rocket. One of the satellites is equipped with ADASpaces blockchain technology and is the world’s first satellite to feature in-orbit visualized blockchain certificates.

Liftoff of Gushenxing-1. (Credit: CASC)

This launch is part of a significant increase in launch cadence for the Gushenxing-1 rocket, which is planned to launch six to eight times in the second half of 2023.

Chang Zheng 4C | Fengyun-3F

Fenguyen-3F took flight from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 3:47 UTC on Aug. 3 from Site 9401 (SLS-2), and the mission was confirmed to be a success. The vehicle for this mission was the Chang Zheng 4C rocket.

The Fengyun (FY) satellites are a series of weather satellites placed in Sun-synchronous orbits (SSO). The satellite for this mission weighs 2,250 kilograms and has an expected lifespan of four years. They operate on a single solar panel and battery supply design.

The FY-3 satellites are polar-orbiting satellites that operate in an 800-kilometer orbit, inclined at 98.8 degrees. Using ten different instruments, this satellite will join seven currently active satellites in orbit to monitor different weather patterns and formations from space.

The rocket for this mission was the Chang Zheng 4C (CZ-4C), which is part of the first generation of China’s Chang Zheng launch vehicles. Its primary purpose is to launch medium-weight SSO satellites using its three-stage design. This was the third flight of the CZ-4C this year, after a Tianhui mission in March and another mission in March that launched a few Yaogan satellites.

Model of a FY-3 satellite in a museum in Shanghai. (Credit: Hibiki Watabe)

Chang Zheng 2D | Yaogan 36 Group 05

Yaogan 36 Group 5 launched on July 26 at 20:02 UTC from Launch Complex 3 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China. Yaogan 36 Group 5 is a group of three satellites built for remote sensing purposes. Like other Yaogan payloads, the mission’s exact use case and goal remain classified.

The Yaogan satellites are military reconnaissance spacecraft that are built to serve a variety of different roles while in orbit — usually being used to survey areas of land or demonstrate new technological developments. While the previous Yaogan 35 and 36 launch patches formed a puzzle that resembled the ocean, which indicated that they might be used for ocean surveillance, this launch’s patch started a new puzzle showing trees and flat land. This could mean that this new group of Yaogan satellites could be used for land surveillance.

Neither the weight nor other technical details about the satellites have been are revealed. The launch vehicle for this mission was a Chang Zheng 2D, which has been used in the past for different Yaogan missions. It is a very commonly used rocket that has already seen six flights in 2023.

Chang Zheng 2D | Sixiang AS-01 to 03 & Lingxi-03

Sixiang AS 01-03 are three payloads built by Sixiang technology and were launched atop a Chang Zheng 2D at 02:50 UTC on July 22 from Launch Complex 9 at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. Of the three payloads, there is an optical satellite with a meter-level resolution, a thermal infrared satellite, and a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite. These satellites have been designed to fulfill customer requests for many businesses that work with Sixiang.

Sixiang wants to ensure that they can provide imagery of anywhere on Earth in 48 hours using their SAR satellite, should SAR imagery of that area be needed. The wide-format optical satellite can cover up to 100 kilometers of land in width, with a resolution of one meter, and the thermal infrared satellite has a range of up to 1000 kilometers.

The secondary payload for this mission is the Lingxi-03 flat plane LEO communication satellite. In a similar design to SpaceX’s Starlink, the satellite is just a flat surface with a deployable solar panel and does not have the characteristic cubic satellite shape. This allows for different assembly and transportation of the satellite when inside the payload fairing, thus allowing for an increase in the amount satellites launched on a mission.

New details on Chang’e-7 lunar mission

China recently outlined new details and plans for its upcoming Chang’e 7 mission and how the probe will dig for water on the Moon. In newly-revealed information, a mini-probe (likely a rover) will be released from the Chang’e-7 from an area that is illuminated via sunlight. The rover will then descend into a crater that is permanently in the shadows. Once there, it will begin to drill into the ground to search for potential water-ice samples.

After this, a mechanical arm will move the samples drilled by the rover into an onboard furnace to heat and analyze the samples. This will then determine if water or ice is present in the samples. Chang’e 7 is one of the planned Chinese moon missions and is currently targeting a 2026 launch and landing.

(Lead image: Chang Zheng-4C on the pad ahead of a launch. Credit: CASC)

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