China launches commercial rocket from the Yellow Sea

by Adrian Beil

China is maintaining its impressive launch cadence in 2023 with five more launches in the past few weeks. These include a barge launch from the Gushenxing-1S rocket and multiple launches of Yaogan satellites.

Jilin-1 Kuangfu 02A – Gushenxing-1

On Friday, Aug. 25 at 05:59 UTC, a Gushenxing-1 rocket launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in China. This was already the fourth mission for the Gushenxing-1 rocket in 2023, which continues its ramp-up of launch cadence this year.

The payload for this mission was Jilin-1 Kuangfu 02A, which will support the Jilin-1 Earth observation constellation. This series of satellites features a significant mass reduction, where the mass per satellite was lowered from 1,200 kilograms to just 230 kilograms. Jilin-1 satellites can image an area 150 kilometers wide with a 0.5-meter resolution.

Liftoff of Gushenxing-1. (Credit: CASC)

Jilin-1 is China’s first remote-sensing satellite constellation made by a commercial company. Launches started in 2015, and the primary operator of the constellation is the Guang Satellite Technology Corporation, a subsidiary of the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics, and Physics.

Once the constellation is fully operational, the goal is to image every inch of Earth’s surface every 10 minutes. The planned completion date is 2030. 

Gushenxing-1 is a launcher made by Galactic Energy, a private spaceflight company. It is a four-stage rocket, with three stages based on solid motors and the final stage using hydrazine for orbital insertion. Gushenxing-1 can lift up to 400 kilograms into low Earth orbit.

Yaogan-39 01A~C – CZ-2D

At 08:36 AM UTC on Aug. 31, a Chang Zheng 2D was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China. The launch was part of the Yaogan-39 group and carried the three 01A-C payloads. The target orbit for these satellites was a 492 by 503-kilometer low-Earth orbit with an inclination of 35 degrees.

Yaogan Weixing spacecraft are used for “remote sensing.” They are commonly called “Yaogan” for short. These are classified payloads with many applications and purposes that are usually not fully revealed. This is the same for this launch, as China did not detail the payload’s purpose besides the fact that it is for remote sensing.

Chang Zheng 2D stands 41 meters tall with a diameter of 3.35 meters and a total liftoff mass of 232,250 kilograms. It is based on the hypergolic mixture of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4).

Tianqi-21~24 – Gushenxing-1S

A launch from a sea platform in the Yellow Sea was conducted on Sept. 5 at 10:34 AM UTC. The launch was based on the same rocket that launched Jilin-1 Kuangfu 02A, Gushenxing-1. In this configuration, it is called Gushenxing-1S as it is launched from a sea platform.

The Tianqi payload. (Credit: CASCI

The mission’s payload was four satellites for the LEO Internet of Things communication constellation Tianqui, consisting of satellites 21 through 24. The launch was conducted from the DeFu-15002 barge. The constellation supports intelligent cities, smart agriculture, innovative education, smart parking, smart cultural tourism, and intelligent water conservancy. Furthermore, it helps with fire protection, environmental protection, cold chain logistics, and emergency communication.

The rocket was loaded horizontally onto the barge before being erected vertically closer to launch. The solid fuel and hypergolic combo used on the Gushenxing rocket makes it easy to store and transport as it does not have to deal with propellant boiling off. 

Yaogan-33 03 – CZ-4C

Two more Yaogan launches were recently conducted. One took flight on a Chang Zheng 4C from Site 9401 (SLS-2) at the JSLC on Sept. 6. It carried a single Yaogan 33-03 satellite to a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). 

The remote sensing satellite will be used for science experiments, census of national land resources, crop yield, agriculture estimation, and disaster monitoring and prevention.

The Chang Zheng 4C (Long March 4C) is a medium-sized satellite launch vehicle from the Chinese space program. It is very frequently used to launch Earth observation satellites. 

CZ-4C is a three-stage launch vehicle using storable hypergolic dinitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine as its oxidizer and fuel.

The rocket is 46.97 meters tall, with a payload capacity to LEO of 4,200 kilograms. The liftoff thrust is 2,993 kilonewtons.

Yaogan-40A~C – CZ-6A

As the final launch of the week, China launched the Yaogan 40 payload to a polar orbit. This payload contains three Chinese reconnaissance satellites of unknown purposes, officially reported as for “electromagnetic environment probing” purposes. The launch time for this launch was 05:30 AM UTC on Sept. 10 from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China.

Chang Zheng 6A lifts off from China. (CASC)

As part of this launch, China announced that a contract was signed to launch 10+ Chang Zheng 6A rockets per year. A unique extended fairing was also featured on this launch, increasing the rocket’s length by almost 5 meters.

CZ-6A is a two-stage rocket loosely based on CZ-6 but modified in many ways. It can lift 5 metric tons into a polar orbit and is usually 50 meters tall with a diameter of 3.35 meters. This specific launch’s rocket is expected to be closer to 55 meters in total length.

(Lead image: Gushengxing lifts off. Credit: CASC)

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