HELSINKI — A pair of Chinese rockets launched 11 mobility services satellites for an automaker and nine further, diverse satellites into orbit late Friday.

A Long March 2C rocket lifted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China at 6:37 p.m. Eastern (2337 UTC) Feb. 2, followed hours later by a Jielong-3 solid rocket launching from a mobile sea platform at 10:06 p.m. (0305 UTC, Feb. 3).

The former launch sent 11 satellites into orbit for the space arm of Chinese automaker Geely. The spacecraft were cataloged by U.S. Space Force space domain awareness in roughly 595 by 605-kilometer orbits with inclinations of 50 degrees.

The 11 satellites are part of the planned  “Geely Future Mobility Constellation” constellation. The constellation is focused on autonomous drive, smart connectivity and other services.

The first phase of 72 satellites are planned to be sent into orbit by 2025 to establish global real-time data communication services, according to Geespace. A second phase of 168 satellites will follow to deliver global centimeter-level high-precision positioning services. 

The completed constellation is to consist of 240 satellites, integrating communication, navigation, and remote sensing capabilities. Geespace states its satellites also have AI remote sensing functions for providing 1-5 meter resolution imaging.

A first batch of nine satellites were launched in June 2022, also using a Long March 2C from Xichang. Geely established a headquarters for its subsidiary Geespace in the Nansha district of Guangzhou in 2021. CAS Space, a launch arm of the state’s Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is also based in the same industrial park.

Smart Dragon sea launch

The latter launch saw nine satellites launched into sun-synchronous orbit on the second Jielong-3 (Smart Dragon-3) solid rocket launch within two months. The rocket lifted off from a mobile sea platform off the coast of Yangjiang, Guangdong province. 

The launch carried a variety of satellites for various customers. These included Dongfang Huiang-01, also known as Yantai-2, a remote sensing satellite with a resolution of 0.5 meters and autonomous processing. 

Little is known about DRO-L, which was developed by the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (IAMCAS). The DRO satellite may be a low Earth orbit link navigation satellite launched in preparation for the upcoming launch of experimental small lunar navigation satellites, Tiandu-1 and 2. The pair will launch for the moon along with the Queqiao-2 lunar relay satellite around March.

Weihai-1 01 and 02 are thought to be developed by giant state-owned enterprise CASIC. The pair carry laser-based communications payloads to demonstrate inter-satellite and space-to-ground laser links.

Xingshidai-18, 19 and 20 for ADA Space, a company developing remote sensing satellites with AI processing capabilities. Xingshidai-18 also included an integrated communications payload. Zhixing-2A is a satellite for Zhixing Space Technology Co. Ltd., also known as Smart Satellite. The commercial firm is building a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) constellation. 

The Nexsat-1 experimental satellite was launched for Egypt, according to the Egyptian Space Agency. The 67-kilogram satellite is part of a drive for localization of microsat satellite technology in Egypt. Berlin Space Technologies of Germany were involved in the development of the satellite.

The launch of Nexsat-1 is part of growing space ties between China and Egypt. 2023 saw a jointly-constructed satellite assembly and test center produce its first satellites, the launch of Egyptian satellites on Chinese rockets, and Egypt join China’s International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project. 

China’s sea launch cadence grows

The Jielong-3 launch was operated by China Rocket Co. Ltd. The firm is described as a commercial-orientated spinoff from CALT, a main launch vehicle manufacturing arm under the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). CASC is China’s main space contractor and maker of Long March rockets. CALT developed the Jielong-3. It was the third launch of the rocket overall.

China Rocket also noted in a press statement that progress had been made on testing of an improved version of the Long March 8. A new commercial launch pad was recently completed near the national Wenchang spaceport dedicated to the rocket. Training programs are underway at the site in preparation for the first launch from the pad later this year.

The Jielong-3 launch was supported by the Haiyang sea launch facilities based on the coast of Shandong province. The launch, following the earlier Jielong-3 launch in December and the debut of the Gravity-1 large solid rocket in February indicates a growing cadence of sea launches. 

The weekend launch was China’s 10th sea launch overall. The first took place in June 2019 using a Long March 11 solid rocket. The facilities provide China with added launch flexibility. The Long March 2C and Jielong-3 launches were China’s seventh and eighth of 2024.

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...