China Great Wall Shakes Off Satellite’s Botched Launch

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Chinese launch services provider China Great Wall Industry Corp. has fully recovered from its mid-2009 underperformance during the launch of Indonesia’s Palapa-D telecommunications satellite and is looking at a dozen export opportunities for nations that want to purchase a Chinese-built satellite and launcher in a combined contract, Chinese officials said.

Ruofei Gao, chief legal counsel for China Great Wall, said the company will be launching three satellites for non-Chinese customers in 2011: the W3C satellite for Paris-based Eutelsat, the Paksat 1R for Pakistan and the Nigcomsat 1R for Nigeria. The Pakistani and Nigerian spacecraft are being built by Chinese industry.

Gao spoke Sept. 7 before the helium-propulsion anomaly on China’s Sinosat-6 satellite, which was launched Sept. 5, was known. It remains unclear whether that defect, which is expected to reduce the service life of Sinosat 6, will force a delay in the launch of the Pakistani and Nigerian spacecraft, which use the same DFH-4 platform.

Gao said China Great Wall is following with interest the U.S. debate over whether to loosen U.S. technology export regulations that for a decade have made it impossible for U.S. satellites or U.S.-built satellite components to be launched from China. But he said the company is not assuming any near-term changes.

While waiting for U.S. regulations to allow China’s Long March vehicle family to compete with Russian, European and U.S. rockets for commercial orders, the Chinese launcher is proceeding with upgrades that have increased the Long March 3B rocket’s payload-carrying ability. The vehicle now can carry a telecommunications satellite weighing 5,500 kilograms to geostationary transfer orbit, compared with 5,200 kilograms previously.

China Great Wall has also reduced the amount of time it takes to complete a launch to 25 days from the time a satellite arrives at the Xichang spaceport in Sichuan Province until it is launched, permitting the vehicle to launch up to 10 times per year, Gao said.

He Xing, executive vice president of China Great Wall, said the company has enough business in China alone to conduct 20 launches a year for all Long March rocket variants for at least five years. Completing that domestic demand with one or two export contracts per year is the company’s goal, Xing said Sept. 8. He said the company is actively pursuing “more than 10, say 10 to 15” potential export orders from nations that would purchase a satellite and a launch vehicle.

NASA spokesman Joshua Byerly said delays with new rockets and spacecraft are to be expected.

“The upcoming test flight is much more complicated since it involves not only the Falcon 9 rocket, but also the Dragon spacecraft,” he said last month. “So you are talking about two brand-new spacecraft.”