China Tied Russia for Most Launches in 2011

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China’s Long March launch vehicle series tied with Russian rockets for first place in 2011 in terms of most rockets launched by a single nation — both with 19 — and China plans 21 launch campaigns in 2012, said Fu Zhiheng, vice president of China Great Wall Industry Corp., which markets the rockets.

The Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China is currently the spaceport handling most commercial telecommunications satellites intended for geostationary orbit.

At Xichang, Fu said, site managers have reduced the duration of a launch campaign to an average of 25 days. Two parallel campaigns can be run until about a week before one is scheduled for launch, and the spaceport now needs as little as 17 days to clean up the launch pad before proceeding with a second launch.

The Long March rocket now is able to secure insurance premiums that are not materially higher than the premiums given for launches of Europe’s Ariane 5 and Russia’s Proton rockets.

China’s presence on the commercial launch market continues to be hobbled by U.S. technology export regulations that mean U.S.-built satellites, and most U.S. satellite components, are barred from export to China.

The China Aerospace Corp. has partly compensated for this by investing in the DFH-4 telecommunications satellite platform for sale to other countries. Several nations outside China — Nigeria, Venezuela, Pakistan and Belarus among them — have purchased combined Long March/DFH-4 missions to enter the satellite telecommunications business.

Zu said more than 20 DFH-4 telecommunications satellites are scheduled for launch into geostationary orbit in the coming years.

Two new DFH-4 designs are in development. The DFH-4E will increase power to the satellite’s payload to 11 kilowatts, compared with the maximum of 8 kilowatts for today’s DFH-4. The smaller DFH-4S will feature lithium-ion batteries and an option for electric propulsion to replace chemical propulsion and reduce overall satellite weight, Zu said.