HELSINKI — China sent its ChinaSat-6E communications satellite toward geostationary orbit Thursday with a launch from Xichang spaceport.

A Long March 3B rocket lifted off into the night sky above Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 6:23 a.m. Eastern (1123 UTC), Nov. 9. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) confirmed launch success and the payload within an hour of launch.

ChinaSat-6E (Zhongxing-6E) entered its planned geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). It will take over the radio and television broadcasting role of the ChinaSat-6B satellite launched in July 2007 and positioned at 115.5° East.

The launch is part of a series of replacements of aging geostationary satellites. In April last year a Long March 3B launched ChinaSat-6D to replace ChinaSat-6A, which suffered a lifetime-shortening helium leak after launch. Chinasat-9C is expected to launch in 2025 to replace Chinasat-9, launched in 2008.

CASC says ChinaSat-6E will mainly cover China, Southeast Asia, Australia and other regions. It was also stated to be part of space-based infrastructure for China’s Belt and Road initiative and construction of the “digital China” strategy.

The new C and Ku and other multiband broadcast communication ChinaSat-6E satellite is based on a DFH-4E bus, an enhanced version of the established DFH-4 geostationary platform developed by CASC’s China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).

The DFH-4E has a mass of around 5,500 kilograms and features hybrid electric- and chemical-propulsion. It has a mission lifetime of 15 years. 

CAST has also developed the larger DFH-5 bus which requires the use of China’s largest launcher, the Long March 5. So far only one satellite based on the platform, Shijian-20, launched in 2019, is in orbit. The first to be launched, Shijian-18, was lost in the failure of the second Long March 5 launch in 2017.

The 56-meter-tall Long March 3B has long been China’s workhorse for launches to GTO. It launches inland from Xichang using a highly toxic propellant combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. It often causes falling rocket debris issues.

CASC has also begun using the Long March 7A, a 60.1-meter-long, 3.35-meter-diameter launch vehicle, for launches to GTO. 

The rocket launches from the coastal Wenchang spaceport and uses more friendly kerosene and liquid oxygen than the hypergolic Long March 3B. The Long March 7A last week launched the mystery TJS-10 experimental satellite.

ChinaSat-6E is China’s 52nd orbital launch of 2023. CASC stated early in the year it would aim to launch more than 60 times, and has so far completed 38 launches. 

Commercial firms Galactic Energy, Expace, Space Pioneer, Landspace and CAS Space have contributed 14 launches to the national total. 

Chinese authorities do not publish detailed launch schedules. Launches that could take place before the end of the year include a Shijian recoverable satellite, the Einstein Probe to detect violent cosmic events, satellites for developing countries, commercial remote sensing satellites, and the continuation of China’s building of its reconnaissance satellite infrastructure.

Landspace could also launch its first payload on its Zhuque-2 methane-liquid oxygen rocket. New commercial sector entrant Orienspace could conduct its first launch with the Gravity-1 solid rocket in December.

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...