China carries out 2 orbital launches inside 3 hours

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HELSINKI — China launched six remote sensing satellites into orbit with two launches inside three hours from sites in north China.

A commercial Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket lifted off from a transporter erector launcher at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, northwest China, at 10:40 p.m. Eastern Tuesday.

The payload was the Jilin-1 Gaofen-2A optical Earth observation satellite for Changguang Satellite Technology Co. Ltd., a commercial offshoot of the state-owned Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The 230-kilogram satellite has a full color resolution of better than 0.75m, multi-spectral resolution better than 3m, and swarth width greater than 40km, according to CGST.

China developing its Earth observation capabilities both on the national level and on the provincial level, says Alexandre Najjar, a space industry analyst at Euroconsult. 

“In addition to the Jilin constellation, which is partly financed by the Jilin Provincial Government, the Hainan EO smallsat constellation is sponsored by the Hainan Provincial Government,” notes Najjar, adding that Henan Province has agreed to a deal with Tencent-funded Satellogic which enables Chinese data science company ABDAS to task its satellites on a “constellation as a service” business model. 

“In all three cases, the Provincial Government is expected to use the collected data both for its own use, but also for commercial purposes, in order to develop the local economy,” says Najjar.

The launch vehicle belongs to Expace, a commercial subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), a giant defense contractor and missile maker.

The Kuaizhou-1A, understood to be derived from missile technology, consists of three solid stages and a liquid propellant upper stage, and is capable of lofting a 200-kilogram payload into a 700-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). 

The Kuaizhou-1A has now carried out four commercial launches, following a mission late august. A larger Kuaizhou-11 solid launcher has been slated for a test flight since 2018 is yet to fly.

Long March 6 makes third flight

The second Chinese launch of the day took place at Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China, at 1:25 a.m. Eastern Wednesday. 

A three-stage Long March 6 carried five satellites named Ningxia-1, described in Chinese press reports as being mainly for remote sensing, into low Earth orbit. 

The Earth observation project is backed investment from provincial company Ningxia Jingui Information Technology Co. Ltd. The satellites were developed by Aerospace Dongfanghong Satellite Co., Ltd., a subsidiary of the China Academy of Space Technology. 

The Ningxia-1 satellites bear the name of Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, northwest China. No further payload information was immediately available.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) stated that the Long March 6 underwent modifications for the launch. 

The launcher uses kerosene and liquid oxygen propellant for its first two stages and was designed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. SAST is also developing a Long March 6 variant which will be capable of vertical takeoff and vertical landing.

A new batch of Long March 6 launches are expected soon, carrying commercial and international payloads. The launcher can deliver up to 1,000 kilograms to a 700-kilometer SSO.

In January Argentina-based Satellogic said that it plans to launch 90 of its remote sensing smallsats on as many as six Long March 6 rockets under a contract with China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC).

China has attempted 26 launches in 2019 so far. 24 of these have been successful, though one satellite remains in geostationary transfer orbit, presumed lost. The two failures were a Long March 4C and a first orbital launch attempt from private company OneSpace. 

Preparations are ongoing at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center for a return-to-flight of the Long March 5 heavy-lift launcher. 

The mission will carry the experimental Shijian-20 communications satellite, based on a new large platform. Success of the launch is required for China to proceed with missions to Mars, the moon, and move ahead with its plans for a crewed space station.