Kuaizhou-1A returns to flight with test satellite launch

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HELSINKI — A Kuaizhou-1A rocket sent the Tianxing-1 satellite into orbit late Tuesday, marking a return to flight six months after the solid light-light launcher suffered failure.

The Kuaizhou-1A lifted off from a transport erector launcher at 10:08 p.m. Eastern June 21 (0208 UTC June 22) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.

Little is known about the Tianxing-1 payload. The satellite is set to be used for experiments including “space environment detection,” according to Chinese space authorities and media.

Tianxing-1 was developed by the Institute of Mechanics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

The Kuaizhou-1A consists of three solid stages and a liquid propellant upper stage. It is capable of carrying 200 kilograms of payload into a 700-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

The rocket has now flown 15 times. The previous Kuaizhou-1A flight ended with the rocket’s second failure in December 2021. The first launch took place in January 2017. 

The launcher is operated by Expace and has attracted a number of Chinese commercial customers including remote sensing constellation operator Changguang Satellite Technology. 

Giant state-owned missile and defense contractor China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) is the parent company of Expace.

CASIC is a separate entity to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). CASC is the country’s main space contractor and operator of the Long March rockets.

CASIC and its subsidiaries plan an 80-satellite narrowband constellation named Xingyun. Plans to launch at least 12 Xingyun-2 satellites in 2022 to form the second stage of the three-stage constellation had been announced before the December 2021 failure.

Similar plans for launches of 12 Xingyun satellites across 2021 were stated in 2020. The KZ-1A then suffered its first failure in September 2020.

Tuesday’s mission was China’s 20th launch of 2022, with CASC alone aiming for more than 50 missions, including completion of the country’s low Earth orbit space station. 

A number of commercial Chinese rockets expected to add to Chinese launch activity this year, including the Kuaizhou series.

Landspace and CAS Space are expected to debut new rockets from Jiuquan in the near future, while Galactic Energy will begin a new set of launches of its Ceres-1 solid rocket in the second half of the year.