Multiple remote sensing satellites launched from China, as launch cadence increases

by Adrian Beil

With over 35 launches in 2023, China is on its way to returning to its high launch cadence after a slow start to the year. Launches in the past few days include two rockets outside the Chang Zheng family and the mighty Chang Zheng 3 B/E’s return as it flew for the fourth time this year.

Documentary released about ZhuQue-2

The Chinese startup LandSpace has released a short documentary about its rocket and the build process over the past five years. Part of the released footage shows the initial maiden launch of the methane rocket and how the rocket started to tumble once the vernier engines misbehaved. This problem ultimately caused the failure of flight one.

Flight two, which happened in July 2023, was the first successful flight of an orbital methane rocket. According to the company, a third flight is planned before the end of the year.

Chang Zheng 2C | Huanjing Jianzai-2 06

Huanjing-2-06 flew on board a Chang Zheng 2C (CZ-2C) from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China. Liftoff was confirmed for 22:53 UTC on Tuesday, Aug. 8. The Chinese S-band synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite was launched into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The resolution of the payload is five meters, which will help Chinese disaster monitoring.

The satellite will join another SAR satellite in orbit to support Chinese disaster prevention, reduction, environmental protection surveillance, and more. The S-Band frequency offers different advantages that allow the monitoring of different specifics compared to other frequencies. The payload was deployed in a 488 by 503-kilometer orbit, with an orbital inclination of 97.40°.

Render of the payload in space. (Credit: CASC)

CZ-2C, the rocket used for this launch, is a smaller rocket in the Chinese launch manifest. It can carry up to 1,900 kilograms into a SSO and is usually used for more compact surveillance, weather, and radar satellites launched to low-Earth Orbit (LEO) or SSO. It has been operational since September 1982 and has seen different versions and upgrades that improved the ability to launch multiple payloads, among other things.

Ceres-1 | Lucky 7 Xian Hangtou x 4 & three others

After launching in July 2023, Ceres-1 (Gushenxing-1) flew again on Aug. 10 at 04:03 UTC. The four-stage rocket, mainly based on solid-propellant motors, carried the seven payloads to a SSO. The liftoff center for the rocket was the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China.

While conflicting information about the payloads on board is floating around, it seems that the final list of payloads includes the Xiguan-1 (01) payload, the Star Pool-1B satellite, the GeoSat Intelligent Emergency-1 satellite, and four Xian Hangtou payloads.

Hao Huan Luo logo, which sponsored this launch. (Credit: Galactic Energy)

Based on statements by the company, the launch has been successful. Hao Huan Luo, a Chinese rice noodle soup brand, was confirmed to sponsor this launch, and therefore had its logo present both on the rocket, as well as the payload adapter. Since the rocket was used to display advertisements, the Chinese flag was not present on the rocket. The company for rice noodles shared a picture of their brand in space, displayed on the payload adapter. 

After this, five to seven more launches of Ceres-1 are planned for the remaining year. The rocket company Galactic Energy has committed to increasing the rocket’s launch cadence. Depending on the ability to fulfill these goals, the rocket might launch up to ten times this year.

Chang Zheng 3 B/E | Ludi Tance-4 01

Chang Zheng 3 B/E flew from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China on Aug. 12 at 17:26 UTC. The giant rocket, which can carry up to 11.5 tonnes to LEO, had the Ludi Tance 4-01 payload in the fairing. 

Ludi Tance-4 01 is part of a network of SAR satellites launched to geosynchronous orbit. The satellites can provide constant all-time Earth observation at an area that stays constant over a more extended period, which allows for non-interrupted observation of needed areas for various applications.

The satellites transmit L-band radio signals, and repeating this process over time can produce high-resolution images of the observed area. Application for this can also be used at night, as the SAR character of the payload allows one to take valuable pictures, even when the Sun is not illuminating the area. It can even pierce through a layer of clouds and deliver information. 

Applications named for this satellite aid in resource monitoring, mapping of areas, and disaster management. Applications also include weather monitoring, earthquake monitoring, and forestry applications. 

Chang Zheng 3 B/E is a massive rocket developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology. It can lift 11,500 kilograms to LEO and up to 5,500 kg to a geostationary transfer orbit.

It consists of three stages, two based on hypergolics and the final on liquid hydrogen. In rare cases, an optional YZ-1 fourth stage can be used for final orbital adjustments. This was seemingly different for this launch.

Hede-3A-E | Kuaizhou-1A

On Aug. 14, at 05:32 UTC, Kuaizhou-1A took flight from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The payload for this mission was the Hede-3A-E mission, which carried five micro-satellites to orbit. The satellites will provide commercial remote-sensing services.

Like Ceres-1, KZ-1A consists of three solid stages and one-fourth liquid-fueled stage for the final payload insertion. The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation subsidiary, ExPace, developed the rocket.

Chang Zheng 4C | Gaofen-12 04

The final launch for this week was the liftoff of Chang Zheng 4C on Sunday at 17:45 UTC. The payload was a Gaofen-12 04 satellite.

Gaofen is a series of civilian remote sensing satellites operated by the China High-definition Earth Observation System. The Gaofen 12 satellites are supposed to provide high-resolution Earth observation data using a microwave remote sensing system. This can provide pictures of a resolution below one meter.

(Lead image: Chang Zheng 3 B/E Liftoff. Credit: CASC)

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