HELSINKI — China has carried out a pair of solid rocket launches and sent a communications satellite towards geostationary orbit for Pakistan.

A Long March 3B lifted off at 8:12 a.m. Eastern (1212 UTC) May 30 from Xichang, southwest China, carrying Paksat MM1 for Pakistan. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) confirmed launch success after the satellite entered geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Paksat MM1 (multi-mission communications satellite) is based on a DFH-4E satellite bus from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). The satellite had a liftoff mass of 5,400 kilograms and is equipped with nine antennas and 48 transponders in C, Ku, Ka, and L bands, according to the China Great Wall Industrial Corporation (CGWIC), a subsidiary of CASC.

Paksat MM1 will replace an earlier communications satellite for SUPARCO, the Pakistan government authority responsible for space affairs. 

The satellite will provide television, broadcasting, regional enhanced communications, high-throughput broadband communications, satellite-based enhanced navigation and other services to Pakistan and surrounding areas. The satellite will serve countries engaged in the Belt and Road initiative.

Space ties between Pakistan and China have grown in recent times. Paksat MM1 is part of “2021-2030 Space Cooperation Outline Programs” between China and Pakistan and is financed by a  concessional loan from the Chinese government.

The jointly-developed Icube-Q small satellite was recently released into lunar orbit by Chang’e-6, and Pakistan has committed to joining the China-led International Lunar Research Station (ILRS).

Ceres-1 launch

Galactic Energy conducted a Ceres-1 launch later on Thursday at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, northwest China. Liftoff occurred at 7:39 p.m. Eastern (2339 UTC).

The mission carried five satellites into sun-synchronous orbits. These include a pair of Jiguang Xingzuo lasercom test satellites. The final three were Yunyao-1 meteorology satellites with GNSS occultation (GNSS-RO) and infrared imager payloads for commercial firm Yunyao Yuhang, according to Galactic Energy.

Yunyao Yuhang’s aim is to provide data for global weather forecasting and even short-term earthquake forecasting, including for countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative.

The 19-meter-long, 1.4-meter-diameter Ceres-1 can carry 350 kilograms to low Earth orbit or 230 kilograms to a 700-kilometer SOO. It consists of three solid stages and an advanced liquid upper stage.

It was the 13th Ceres-1 launch overall, including two sea launches. The launcher suffered one failure, in September 2023.

Sea Launch

The above activity followed another launch of the Ceres-1, this time launching from a mobile sea platform off the coast of Shandong province. Liftoff occurred at 4:12 a.m Eastern May 29.

It successively sent Tianqi Internet-of-things constellation satellites 25-28 into low Earth orbit for Beijing-based Guodian Gaoke.  The satellites entered a 850-kilometer-altitude orbit, according to Galactic Energy.

The launch notably took place just off the coast of the city of Rizhao, providing the inhabitants with a startling, close-up view of the action.

The mission was the second Ceres-1 sea launch. The company plans four further sea launches this year. China has developed sea launch capabilities to help ease a bottleneck in access to launch pads and provide flexibility.

China has now conducted 27 orbital launches so far in 2024. CASC says the country is aiming for around 100 launches, including around 30 from commercial launch service providers.

Chang’e-6, a lunar far side sample return mission, is set to make its landing attempt late on Saturday June 1 Eastern.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...