China Great Wall Pins December Long March Launch Failure on Fuel-line Clog

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PARIS — China’s launch-services provider on March 3 said the December failure of a Long March 4B rocket was due to debris that blocked the fuel intake of an upper-stage engine, resulting in the loss of the CBERS-3 Earth observation satellite owned jointly by China and Brazil.

In a statement, the China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) said the debris, which caused the premature shutdown of the second of two third-stage engines, likely came from “the launch vehicle pressurization feeding system or the assembly process of the third-stage engine.”

“Corrective actions including strengthening quality management and perfecting the foreign object debris-control techniques [during] assembly, integration and test” would be put into place immediately, CGWIC said, on both delivered vehicles and those under production.

The Long March 4B failure review was directed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology.

The Long March 4B’s upper stage is powered by two identical engines. The first functioned as designed.

The CBERS-3 satellite was released into a useless orbit but deployed its solar arrays and gave enough signs of health to enable Brazilian and Chinese program managers to accelerate production of CBERS-4, which employs a similar design.

The CBERS-4 schedule, which before the December failure had featured a launch in 2015, will be accelerated in an attempt to launch this December, the Brazilian Space Agency, AEB, said. Most of the Brazilian-made CBERS-4 components are already in China, where assembly, integration and testing is to occur.

Launch will be aboard a Long March 4B from China’s Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province.