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China Space News Update #12: This week: Space debris mitigation satellite, solid rocket engine test, Zhurong and deep space forum

Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones
Updates, context and reports on China’s expanding space activities, with the latest civil, commercial, policy and exploration news.
Here’s the roundup for 18-24 October, 2021. Thanks for reading – and feel free to get in touch with comments, feedback and suggestions.

This week: Space debris mitigation satellite, solid rocket motor test, deep space forum
Launch of Shijian-21
Launch of Shijian-21
Shijian-21 “space debris mitigation technologies” satellite
China’s 39th launch of the year took place at Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 0127 UTC October 24, with a Long March 3B sending the classified Shijian-21 satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit. It was revealed with the announcement of launch success that the satellite would be “testing space debris mitigation technologies.”
The spacecraft is understood to have been developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) but no further details were provided. SAST recently unveiled a “space tanker” that would be able to refuel satellites in GEO, extending their mission lifetimes and thus performing a space debris mitigation service by reducing the need for launching new satellites. It is unknown if this is related to the launch.
The lack of transparency is thus both a concern and provides a space for accusations of more nefarious intent with these tests. Following hot on the heels of the FOBS development, it will add fuel to the fire of talk of a global space arms race. There are active debris removal systems out there which involve harpooning defunct satellites, but the relative openness of the projects ameliorates concerns. China’s rendezvous and proximity operations tests with the earlier Shijian-17, while not unprecedented, also attracted scrutiny.
Shijian-21 will be tracked in orbit in GEO for close approaches to satellites. Further information may be released from China if tests are successful, depending upon the nature of the tests and the actors involved.
Hugh Lewis
Hmmm. Mitigation tends to focus on prevention of #SpaceDebris not removal. The latter tends to be associated with concerns over dual-use, not usually the former. Lack of transparency is concerning.
Huge solid rocket motor test firing
A big step for China’s solid rocket capabilities this week with the test firing of a 3.5 meters diameter solid rocket engine producing a maximum thrust of 500 tonnes.
“Testing is very successful. We have tested all the parameters including the 500-ton thrust that worked 115 seconds… Next, we will develop a 1,000-ton solid rocket engine to provide stronger thrust for China’s carrier rockets in the future,”“ said Ren Quanbin, president of Academy of Aerospace Solid Propulsion Technology (AASPT) under CASC.
These solid engines are stated to be for use for crewed lunar and deep space missions. These could be seen as comparable to the solid boosters for SLS, yet China’s Long March 9 rocket, expected to debut around 2028-2030, currently does not hold solid boosters as part of the plan. It does however provide another option, as well as high-thrust capabilities that can be handed off to China Rocket Co. Ltd., a commercial spinoff from CASC’s main launch vehicle maker and developer of Jielong solid rockets. A recently developed 2.6 diameter solid motor will power the Jielong-3, which could launch in February-March 2022.
China’s most powerful solid rocket motor tested
China’s most powerful solid rocket motor tested
Tianwen-1 and Zhurong back in action
Commercial space
An image from Zhurong delivered before the solar conjunction period. Credit: CNSA/PEC
An image from Zhurong delivered before the solar conjunction period. Credit: CNSA/PEC
China’s first independent interplanetary spacecraft are back in action following a roughly month-long period in safe mode due to the once-every-26-month solar conjunction during which the Sun interferes with Earth-Mars comms.
Tianwen-1 will soon shift its orbit from a dedicated relay role to one suited for global surveying of Mars with its imagers, subsurface radar and other instruments.
Zhurong, having already covered 1,182 metres, will continue south towards interesting geological features, and ESA’s Mars Express will test relaying data from Zhurong to Earth in November.
Deep Space Forum
Zhang Rongqiao provides an update on the profile of China's Mars sample-return mission. Source: Deep Space Exploration Science & Technology forum via Larry Teds/Twitter.
Zhang Rongqiao provides an update on the profile of China's Mars sample-return mission. Source: Deep Space Exploration Science & Technology forum via Larry Teds/Twitter.
A Deep Space Exploration Science & Technology forum was held in Shenzhen October 17-19, with some of the sessions live-streamed (CKCEST). Among the highlights was an update from Zhang Rongqiao, a senior figure in Chinese exploration and chief designer of Tianwen-1.
His presentation, summed up in this Twitter thread, states that the planetary exploration roadmap, noted in China’s 15th Five-Year Plan, has passed a major review. This includes a Mars sample return (Tianwen-2), asteroid sample return/comet visit (ZhengHe) and Jupiter exploration. Though not set in stone, this is how the mission profiles are now looking:
  • The Mars sample return is now looking like a two-launch profile (Long March 5 and 3B), launching around 2028-2030, instead of a single-shot Long March 9.
  • The Jupiter mission, including two spacecraft, will separately target Jupiter with a landing on Callisto, and head for Uranus, arriving in 2049 (PRC centennial).
  • These are in addition to ILRS and sending probes to the edge of the heliosphere.
Other items from the forum:
  • CAST researcher Guo Linli states progress has been made on extracting oxygen from lunar regolith, a process that would be valuable for China’s lunar plans. (Sohu/CKCEST, SCMP)
  • Details on a hopping probe for Chang'e-7, Moon-based Earth observation in the 5th ILRS mission (mid-2030s), lunar ISRU and power generation plans, and a lunar sampling mission to drill 16 metres down.
  • Some fascinating and ambitious space-based astronomy plans (for a later edition).
Commercial space
Xingkong Power (Suzhou Zhongxin Xingkong Power Technology Co., Ltd/苏州中新星空动力科技有限公司), an electric propulsion startup, closes a 10 million RMB ($1.56 million) angel round. The firm is looking to boost China’s capabilities in Hall thrusters and fill a gap in the commercial sector. (36Kr)
Smart Satellite carries out test of MiniSAR mission satellite payload mounted on a UAV (Smart Sat)
Satellite platform developer Spacety establishes facilities in Mianyang China Science and Technology City (Spacety)
CAS Space tests a TEL ahead of its first orbital launch (Weibo)
A vibration test of Landspace’s Zhuque-2 methane-liquid oxygen rocket? (ATwitterce of Razgriz)
Ace of Razgriz
Glimpse of Zhueque -2 when doing the vibration test
And related to FOBS, a social media post from CASIC hints at a recent test related to the Tengyun spaceplane, which falls under the umbrella of “hypersonic”. The text and poetry is cryptic, with some suggesting the “9” on the arm of the shark referring to 90,000, which would be more than the flight distance around the world in Chinese miles (Li, 里).
Andrew Jones
LOL. A badge from a post from CASIC on their Tengyun (腾云) spaceplane project. Fun times.
Science and exploration
A set of three papers confirm the age of samples from an earlier paper and provide further insights into the geological conditions in Oceanus Procellarum:
Two billion-year-old volcanism on the Moon from CE-5 basalts (Nature)
Non-KREEP origin for Chang’E-5 basalts (Nature)
A dry lunar mantle reservoir for young mare basalts of CE-5 (Nature)
  • More Chang'e-5 samples (17.936g) have been released following an
announcement on Second release of lunar research samples (CLEP)
  • Chinese, French scientists to conduct joint research on CE-5 (ECNS, SCMP)
Handover ceremony for the first Chinese Space Station experiment samples (CAS, CMSA)
Articles and updates
She Is Breaking Glass Ceilings in Space, Facing Sexism on Earth (NYT (paywall), WION) – On Wang Yaping’s space career.
Chinese satellite Shiyan-10 is now active, weeks after an anomaly during launch (SpaceNews)
Mapping China’s Digital Silk Road (CSIS)
China-Belgium Aerospace Science & Tech Cooperation Seminar held (Chinese Astronautical Society)
China’s Shenzhou 13 Mission and Its Long-Term Impact (The Diplomat)
China’s Shenzhou 14 is on standby to launch in case of space station emergency (
A Chinese Starlink? PRC Views on Building a Satellite Internet Megaconstellation (Jamestown)
Two-phase flow cooling system chosen as one of 9 scientific projects planned to go to Chinese Space Station (Spacewatch.Global, Quattro)
China space programme hit by coronavirus outbreak as rocket work stops (SCMP) – preparation for a Kuaizhou-1A launch was temporarily halted.
US Must Build Space ‘Superhighway’ Before China Stakes Claims: Senior Space Force Officer (Breaking Defense)
China builds ASAT weapon that can explode inside exhaust (SCMP)
CAST 2021 Strategic Management Committee Meeting (CAST)
SAST student Aerospace Innovation Competition (inc. a Mars helicopter) (SAST)
  • Related: NASA says it needs nuclear rockets to put people on Mars (Futurism)
International Astronautical Congress in Dubai, 25 – 29 October (IAFASTRO)
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Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones @AJ_FI

A weekly roundup of developments in the nebulous but energetic Chinese space sector. Created by freelance space reporter and correspondent Andrew Jones.

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