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China Space News Update #13: National launch record, combined propulsion test, planetary defence and much more

Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones
A weekly roundup of developments in the nebulous but energetic Chinese space sector. Created by freelance space reporter and SpaceNews.com correspondent Andrew Jones.
Here’s the roundup for 25-31 October, 2021. Thanks for reading – and feel free to get in touch with comments, feedback and suggestions.

This week: National launch record, combined propulsion, planetary defence and more
Liftoff of the Kuaizhou-1A carrying the Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F satellite from Jiuquan, Oct. 27, 2021. Credit: CNSA
Liftoff of the Kuaizhou-1A carrying the Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F satellite from Jiuquan, Oct. 27, 2021. Credit: CNSA
China sets new national launch record
Launch of a Kuaizhou-1A rocket from Jiuquan on Oct. 27 not only successfully put the Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F commercial Earth observation satellite into orbit but also saw China set a new national record for launches in a calendar year, despite still being only October. In short:
  • The launch was China’s 40th orbital launch of 2021, surpassing the 39 launches of 2018 and 2020
  • CASC, the country’s main space contractor, has carried out 36 of the launches with more than 40 planned in total for the year
  • Compared with 2015, China launched just 19 times, all with CASC Long March rockets
  • Four commercial launches, two each from Expace and iSpace, a private firm, with Hyperbola-1 solid rockets, have been conducted this year, with more expected.
  • China could potentially reach more than 50 launches this year. This would most likely see China lead the world in terms of launch rate, but not threaten the rate of launches during the Cold War.
  • China is also launching much more mass into orbit than previously, following the development of new launchers and start of its space station project.
  • While much of China’s recent acceleration in launch activity has been related to establishing space infrastructure leading space powers already have in place, the launch rate could even grow as the commercial sector develops.
  • The availability of launch facilities could be a bottleneck, though new complexes are being built in Jiuquan and Taiyuan, as well as the Ningbo commercial space port and Haiyang sea launch port.
The second launch of a Kuaizhou-1A in a month shows that Expace, the commercial solid rocket operator, is getting back on track after two failures in 2020. Yet it remains far short of plans laid out in 2016.
Tengyun spaceplane/hypersonics progress?
A rather cryptic update from the 31st institute of the 3rd Academy under the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) suggests that a team has made significant progress with a test of a combined propulsion system. This could be a flight test related to the “Tengyun” spaceplane project (one of five CASIC “cloud” projects), and could be demonstration of Rocket-Based Combined Cycle (RBCC), turbo-aided rocket-augmented ram/scramjet engine (TRRE), or something more SABRE-esque, following development of propulsion systems by CASIC’s Beijing Power Machinery Research Institute. All hypersonics research has been very much secretive, given the sensitivity of the technology.
"31st Institute, 3rd Academy of CASIC aerospace combined propulsion test team". Credit: CASIC
"31st Institute, 3rd Academy of CASIC aerospace combined propulsion test team". Credit: CASIC
The First China Planetary Defence Conference was held in Guilin, Guangxi, Oct. 23-27. The conference touched on a range of topics, including radar astronomy, early warning systems, small-body exploration, impact simulation, space-based monitoring, impacts, impactors, lasers and other deflection possibilities. (Sohu)
The outline of some papers and presentations can be found here (Chinese) and this paper (Nature) from last year on a Enhanced Kinetic Impactor (EKI) from the Chinese Academy of Sciences is an indication that China has already started looking at planetary defence. This is dual use territory, but has long been looked at by other space actors.
Commercial roundup
Launch firm Rocket Pi orders engines from Jiuzhou Yunjian: Lingyun series methane-liquid oxygen engines will power Rocket Pi’s Darwin-1 reusable launch vehicle, set for a test flight in early 2023. (SpaceNews)
China Satellite 2021 Conference concluded successfully: roundup of developments, participants and speeches from China Satellite 2021 (Satellite World (Chinese))
Indonesia orders Thales Alenia Space satellite to replace lost Nusantara-2: Nusantara-2 was lost on a Long March 3B failure in April 2020. (SpaceNews)
China Satcom and Air China hold airborne satellite communication terminal equipment delivery ceremony (CASC)
Geespace unveils GEE-HPM100 car module for high-precision positioning for autonomous driving (geespace)
Research: Promote the deployment of non-GEO constellations and seize the “commanding heights” of satellite Internet (CCID)
Beijing Tianren Daohe New Material Co., Ltd. and Space Transportation (Lingkong Tianxing) sign a strategic cooperation agreement related to development of new technologies and model applications for composite materials for hypersonic aircraft. (STAR market/Science and Technology Innovation Board)
China is building a new ship to facilitate sea launches (Haiyang port project)
Cosmic Penguin
Apparently the Chinese are now really building a new rocket ship for solid fuel motor & liquid fuel engine powered LM & private orbital rockets launches & recoveries at their Haiyang, Shandong home port, aiming to put it in service next year.

https://t.co/gbE5Lme2cI https://t.co/tA7dDPcV6K
Science and exploration updates
Yutu-2 and Chang'e-4 have completed a 35th lunar day on the far side of the Moon, according to an update from Chinese public outreach channel OurSpace. Yutu-2 has needed to thread itself between impact craters and make a slight detour around a cluster of craters–referred to as “神龟” (“divine turtle”) for its resemblance to the shape of a turtle–in order to continue its roughly 20-metres-per-14.5-Earth-day-lunar-daytime progress to the northwest of the Chang'e-4 lander towards a distant basaltic area.
Yutu-2 looks back on the route it negotiated through numerous impact craters. Credit: CNSA/CLEP
Yutu-2 looks back on the route it negotiated through numerous impact craters. Credit: CNSA/CLEP
ESA’s Mars Express team is planning a series of five data relay tests with China’s Zhurong rover: Five tests starting in November will test the ability of Mars Express to relay data from Zhurong to Earth. There will be no actual back-and-forth communications between the rover and orbiter however. This could still be helpful however as the Tianwen-1 orbiter will soon change orbit to begin its own global analysis of Mars, shifting away from the dedicated relay role that it has so far played for Zhurong. (ESA, Space.com)
The Chang’e-3 lander is still alive (Edgar Kaiser via Twitter)
ESA mulls joining Russian-Chinese lunar station project: reiteration that ESA members are holding internal discussions on the ILRS. (TASS)
  • An expected session or update on the ILRS was expected at IAC 2021 in Dubai (Oct. 25-29) but did not materialise.
China-France CFOSAT completes 3-year primary mission lifetime (DFHSat)
Papers
Absolute model ages of three craters in the vicinity of the Chang'E-5 landing site and their geologic implications, (Icarus
Ultra-thick paleoregolith layer detected by lunar penetrating radar: Implication for fast regolith formation between 3.6 and 2.35Ga. (Geophysical Research Letters)
Key technical characteristics of the Tiangong Space Station (Scientia Sinica)
A crewed lunar portable rover concept from Jilin University (Weibo)
Articles and misc updates
Major step in UK contribution to space mission to study solar wind: University of Leicester-developed delivered for ESA-Chinese Academy of Sciences’ SMILE mission, currently set to launch November 2024 (University of Leicester)
China’s FAST Observatory Sees More Than 1000 Radio Bursts from a Single Spot: Largest set of observations ever recorded, from FRB 121102, provides insight into causes of FRBs. (Sky & Telescope)
Zhang Qingwei, formerly of CALT, CASC president and chair of COSTIND, has been appointed Party Secretary of Hunan, succeeding fellow aerospace figure Xu Dazhe. A number of aerospace officials have secured top political posts in recent years. (SCMP)
  • Zhang was also credited with solving the challenge of satellite separation required for launch of the AsiaSat-1 satellite (which was first launched as Westar 6 but was later rescued (video) by Shuttle flight STS-51-A in 1984) on a CZ-3B for U.S. firm Hughes Satellite Systems. (Jamestown)
‘It Did Circle the Globe’: US Confirms China’s Orbital Hypersonic Test: arguments from U.S. officials for more US investment in hypersonic weapons and noting a lack of intelligence capability regarding China’s tests. (Defense One)
Related:
  • Hyten blasts ‘unbelievably’ slow DoD bureaucracy as China advances space weapons (SpaceNews)
  • If China Wants to Waste Its Money on Missiles, We Should Let It (Slate)
PLA shrouds military movement by restricting use of Beidou (India Today)
US, China, Russia Test New Space War Tactics: Sats Buzzing, Spoofing, Spying: Fascinating look at covert satellite activities in geostationary orbit, including China’s TJS-3 and Shijian-20 satellites. (Breaking Defense)
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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 SpaceNews.com correspondent Andrew Jones.

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