HELSINKI — A Chinese commercial launch firm conducted its second orbital mission Wednesday, sending a reported record 26 satellites into orbit.
The second Lijian-1 solid rocket developed by CAS Space lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert at 12:10 a.m. Eastern June 7.
Aboard were the Shiyan-24A and Shiyan-24B experimental satellites. The other payloads were described as technological demonstrations and commercial remote-sensing by Chinese state media reports.
The 26 payloads aboard the flight surpass the previous national record of 22 satellites launched by the much larger Long March 8 rocket in February 2022.
Shiyan series satellites are often classified and understood to be used to test new technologies and payloads for Chinese space systems. These are usually developed and launched by CASC, China’s main, state-owned space contractor. The June 7 launch indicates CAS Space was awarded a contract for national and defense launches, whereas the vast majority of commercial Chinese launches carry commercial payloads.
Other payloads known to be on the flight included Xi’an Hangtou-8 for Xi’an Aerospace Investment, and Xingshidai-16 and Tianyi-26 for commercial satellite firms ADA Space and Spacety respectively. Also aboard was Fucheng-1, an interferometric imaging synthetic aperture radar (SAR) remote sensing satellite for the six-satellite Mianyang constellation.
CAS Space, sometimes referred to as Zhongke Aerospace, is a commercial spinoff from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The firm has plans for a series of solid and reusable liquid propellant rockets for launch services and space tourism.
The company announced in April that it had secured $87 million in C round funding. The main backers were investment vehicles linked to CAS.
The Wednesday mission was the second launch of the Lijian-1, just under a year after the first, in July 2022. The rocket has a take-off weight of 135 tons, a total length of 30 meters, a core stage diameter of 2.65 meters, a fairing diameter of 2.65 meters and can carry 1,500 kilogram of payload into a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit, according to the Chinese Academy of Sciences. A recent presentation revealed that the Lijian-1 uses SP70 solid rocket motors from CASC.
The second Lijian-1 rocket, also known as ZK-1A or Kinetica-1, was the first produced at new facilities in Nansha District in the southern city of Guangzhou. Shikong Tansuo, a space arm of automaker Geely Technology Group, has also settled in Nansha, following a 2021 move by the local government to attract space companies at all stages of the supply chain to the area.
Lijian-1 was briefly the largest operational solid launch vehicle in China until the sea launch of the Jielong-3 in December last year. CAS earlier this year tested vertical rocket landings with a jet-powered prototype as part of efforts to develop reusable rockets. The launch was China’s 22nd orbital mission overall in 2023. CASC plans more than 60 launches this year, while commercial actors could add a further 20 or more orbital missions, according to announced plans.