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China Space News Update #15: A month of major updates, commercial roundup and more

Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones
A (mostly) 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 8 November - 12 December 2021. Thanks for reading – and feel free to get in touch with comments, feedback and suggestions.

The big updates from the past month
A large update this time around, catching up with developments after a busy period including attending the Space Tech Expo Europe in Bremen last month. Major updates are followed by a launch roundup and brief summaries of commercial developments, politics and institutional news, exploration and other updates.
Liftoff of the second Ceres-1 solid rocket from Jiuquan. Credit: Galactic Energy
Liftoff of the second Ceres-1 solid rocket from Jiuquan. Credit: Galactic Energy
Major updates
1. Tianwen-1 changes orbit to begin its science mission. Tianwen-1 fired its engines for 260 seconds on Nov. 8, shifting the spacecraft from orbiting once every 8 hours 12 minutes, with a periapsis of 400 kilometers and 12,000 km apoapsis, to a 7 hours, 5 minute period with a periapsis of 265 km and apoapsis of 10,700 km.
Tianwen-1 had been acting primarily in a data relay role for the Zhurong rover until a planetary blackout, but will now focus more on science, using seven payloads including medium- and high-res. The Mars Orbiter Subsurface Investigation Radar (MOSIR), a sounding radar, will meanwhile scout for water ice beneath the surface. Targets of particular interest include impact craters, volcanoes and canyons. For more detail on Tianwen-1’s remote sensing orbit, see Daniel Estévez‘s blog, who notes that the ground track repeats every 2 Mars sidereal days, after 7 revolutions, maming it good for scheduling communications with the rover (and( probably also for some remote sensing tasks).
The Zhurong rover meanwhile will continue its work, and also attempted data relay with ESA’s Mars Express, transmitting data “in the blind”, with MEX able to receive data from Zhurong, but not vice-versa. Only 1 of 5 tests were successful, with 233 kB being transmitted to Earth. Data in other tests were corrupted. More:
Europe's Mars orbiter relays data from Chinese rover back to Earth | Space
2. The 7th China (International) Commercial Aerospace Forum (CCAF), Nov. 24-26, provided a range of updates on space activities in private and commercial sector (so including state-owned activity which does not significantly involve main contractor CASC). This includes progress on the Tengyun spaceplane. A presentation from CASIC notably included a statement that a flight test of a turbine-based combined cycle engine had been completed, indicating progress in the company’s plans to develop the Tegnyun spaceplane. The announcement follows cryptic posts from subsidiaries on combined propulsion tests in the Gobi Desert.
Also presented were Kuaizhou rocket plans: in the near term seven launches of the KZ-1A are planned for the next three months for various customers. as well as updates from CAS Space, SpaceTrek, AA Engine, iSpace and Deep Blue Aerospace, which unveiled a plan to build on its in-development Nebula-1 launcher with the Nebula-1H (a three-core “heavy” version).
The CASIC-driven Xingyun narrowband satellite constellation, with 12 Xingyun-2 satellites to launch in 2022 to form the second stage of the three-state, 80-sat constellation. The CASIC-led 68.8-square-kilometer Wuhan National Aerospace Industrial Base became fully operational in February. It is said to be capable of assembling and testing 20 solid rockets and producing 240 small satellites each year. More:
Chinese space firms present big ambitions at commercial space forum - SpaceNews
3. Galactic Energy (星河动力) launched its second Ceres-1 solid rocket Dec. 7, successfully placing five small satellites into Sun-synchronous orbit and becoming the first Chinese private firm to reach orbit twice. The Ceres-1 included a number of improvements over the first, launched in Nov. 2021.
The success marks a surprising rise to the front of the China’s private launch providers. With five launches planned for 2022, Galactic Energy has the opportunity to establish itself as a reliable launch provider.
Starting ahead of Galactic Energy were Landspace (first solid launch failed, moved ahead with methalox launcher), iSpace (first Chinese private launch firm to reach orbit (2019), but failed twice this year), Linkspace (entered an apparent two-year hiatus after 2019 VTVL test) and OneSpace (failed with only orbital launch in 2019, status of second attempt plans unclear).
Galactic Energy is also moving ahead with its Pallas-1 reusable kerolox launcher, targeting a first launch in late 2022/early 2023. More:
Chinese private firm Galactic Energy puts five satellites in orbit with second launch - SpaceNews
4. The China Manned Space Agency (CMSA) organised a “Tiangong classroom” which was held live on the Tianhe core module of the Chinese space station and led by Wang Yaping and supported by her two Shenzhou-13 crew mates. The crew gave a tour of the fledgling station, performed experiments and answered a few questions from students in select classrooms around China. The implicit messaging included driving an interest in STEM subjects in students, promoting the country’s space achievements and, internationally, presenting to the world a friendly face of China’s space endeavours.
Live: Special coverage of first class from China's space station
Live: Special coverage of first class from China's space station
5. Yutu-2 discovers “Mystery hut” (it’s rocks, not aliens) on the far side of the Moon. The Chang'e-4 mission’s Yutu-2 rover spotted an object on its horizon in Von Kármán crater in November, according to a drive diary 28 published by OurSpace on Dec. 3. Describing it as a “mystery hut ("神秘小屋”)“ (as a placeholder name rather than an actual description) the solar-powered rover will spend the next months attempting to get close and image the object, the special features of which are a) that it happened to stand out on the horizon, and b) is a relatively larger object in the desolation of Von Kármán crater, suggesting it is younger and of some value to analyse with Yutu-2 payloads. The response to the discovery of yet more rocks on a planetary body which is 38 million square kilometres of rocks has been huge, with media around the world writing about the find. Some are angry that rocks are being mistaken for something else, others believing the truth will be covered up, and yet more having fun with statements and guesses as to its nature (McDonald’s, shopping trolleys (carts), a Starbucks, 2001: A Space Odyssey monoliths, a Winnebago, the CCTV pants building in Beijing and much more). The reaction could probably be a study into the place of the Moon in culture and pop culture, exploration, the tendency towards conspiracy theories and much more. And yes, it’s not the only interesting, curious or overblown discovery by Yutu-2.
Yutu-2 and Chang'e-4 should have powered down for the end of lunar day 37 late Dec. 10 UTC, meaning we could get an update "soon” (days/weeks) with new images from around 20-30 metres closer in, going by the average drive for a lunar day.
Rocks imaged by the predecessor Yutu rover from the 2013 Chang'e-3 mission.
Rocks imaged by the predecessor Yutu rover from the 2013 Chang'e-3 mission.
China's Yutu 2 rover spots cube-shaped 'mystery hut' on far side of the moon | Space
6. 2021 Annual Report to Congress includes China’s space activities. Nov. 17 saw the release of an annual report from the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission which notes China’s progress in space.
A section titled “New Leaps for China’s Space Program” (p298) opens curiously with: “China’s dual-use space and rocketry programs met important milestones in 2021, including successfully landing a probe on Mars and launching the first module of its long-term space station.”
Other noted aspects are supporting ground infrastructure, “indifference to the international downrange risk from its rockets (Long March 5B launch), rocket debris from inland launches, work on new heavy-lift rockets,
Launches
The past month saw six Chinese orbital launches, expanding optical and SAR Earth observation capabilities along with the addition of new classified experimental and communications satellites. Galactic Energy’s Ceres-1 launch placed a further five satellites into orbit including a range of customers and partners.
Launch #44: Gaofen-11 (03) | Long March 4B | Taiyuan | Nov. 20 (CASC)
  • Gaofen-11 satellites are believed to be capable of returning 10-centimetre-level resolution, matching apparent U.S. Kennen class capabilities (launch report: SpaceNews)
Launch #45: Gaofen-3 (02) | Long March 4C | Jiuquan | Nov. 23 | (CASC)
  • Second Gaofen-3 sat adds to China’s CHEOS EO constellation SAR imaging capabilities (report: Space.com)
Launch #46: Shiyan-11 | Kuaizhou-1A | Jiuquan | Nov. 25 | (China Space News)
  • Exceptionally sees a state satellite launch on "commercial” Kuaizhou-1A from Expace/CASIC (report: SpaceNews)
Launch #47: ChinaSat-1D | Long March-3B | Xichang | Nov. 26 | (CASC, CALT)
  • Little known about the communications satellite, suggesting at least partly military purposes for the sat. (report: Space.com)
Launch #48: Five satellites | Ceres-1 (Y2) | Jiuquan | Dec. 7 | (Galactic Energy, ZeroG Lab, Spacety)
  • First Chinese private launch company to reach orbit twice (report: SpaceNews)
Launch #49: Shijian-6 (05) | Long March 4B | Jiuquan | Dec. 12 | (CASC)
  • 400th Long March launch. Notably, the time taken for these 100s shows China’s rapidly increasing launch rate:
  • 1st 100: 37 years
  • 2nd 100: 7.5 years
  • 3rd 100: 3.5 years
  • 4th 100: 2 years 9 months.
Launch report: SpaceNews
China sends classified Shijian satellites into orbit with milestone Long March launch - SpaceNews
Commercial space updates
A number of cities in the Yangtze River Delta region have agreed to cooperate to develop a “G60” satellite chain to promote a satellite internet cluster as part of a Science and Technology Innovation Valley initiative backed by the highest levels of government. The name comes from the G60 expressway which runs through several cities in the region. (China Business News, 9.11)
  • Related: Yangtze River Delta Commercial Aerospace Industry Innovation Center to be established in Suzhou’s Xiangcheng Economic Development Zone (Sohu, 15.11)
CAS Space conducts test of Xuanyuan-1 restartable Kerosene-LOX engine – engine, developed by Xi'an Zhongke Aerospace Power Technology Co., Ltd., to be used in suborbital tourism rocket and future orbital launchers. (CAS Space, 09.11)
Rocket firm iSpace reaches agreement Wenchang Space city, including possibilities for future launches (iSpace) 09.11
iSpace publish details on the Aug. 3 Hyperbola-1 launch failure, noting that the payload fairing failed to separate, with silicone rubber adhering at the 5th or 6th explosive bolt fitting along the longitudinal separation plane. (iSpace, 13.11)
The World’s first space demo of iodine electric propulsion system was carried out by ThrustMe of France, with a NPT30-I2 integrated into the Beihangkongshi-1 satellite operated by Spacety (Nature, ThrustMe, 18.11)
Landspace’s Zhuque-2 methane-liquid oxygen launcher will be ready at the end of 2021, ahead of launch in 2022, CEO Zhang Changwu said in an interview. It will be the first use of methalox engine technology in China and a potentially major milestone of the first private liquid rocket launch. Zhang stated that the company, earlier targeting a 2020 inaugural launch of ZQ-2, had been focusing on infrastructure development. (China Economic Net, 18.11)
“Tongchuan Radar Data and Application Digitization Industry Base” led by commercial satellite developer Smart Satellite wins investment. The project is related to the company’s plans for a 12-satellite SAR constellation. (Smart Satellite, 12.11)
Satellite developer and manufacturer Spacety received investment from Cedarlake Capital. Spacety is now working on a number of constellations with state-owned partners, including the Tianxian SAR satellite constellation (ChinaVenture, 19.11)
CAS Space conducts ground training tests for the ZK-1A solid rocket at sea launch facilities in Haiyang, Shandong province. ZK-1A (aka Lijian-1) is set for its first launch in Q1 2022. (CAS Space, 19.11)
Building rockets is cool: Interview with a post-90s employee at private rocket firm iSpace. (iSpace, 19.11)
Hong Kong Aerospace Science and Technology Group and Shenzhen Tsinghua University Research Institute agree to build satellite application center (Oriental Daily, 20.11)
Honeywell JetWave Approved for China Satcom Ka-Band HTS (Honeywell)
Aerospace Hongtu establishes a new wholly-owned subsidiary (source, 25.11)
Alibaba lists job for LEO Satellite Terminal System Architect (DFHour, 30.11)
DITEL, focusing on maritime satellite communications, completes new round of funding (pedaily, 30.11)
“36 Tiangang” constellation project underway including SAR satellites and a mix of public and private entities (SpaceNews, (Zhuhai Satellite, Sohu, CCDI)
Two Kuaizhou-1A launch vehicles set off for Jiuquan (Expace, 01.12)
New engine for reusable rocket: Galactic Energy 50-ton Cangqiong kerolox engine for Pallas-1 launcher assembled (Galactic Energy, 03.12)
Galaxy Space produce first commercial flexible solar wing (Galaxy Space, 10.12)
Hypersonic spaceplane company Space Transportation conduct successful “Tianxing I” rocket Yao-5B flight test (Space Transportation, 09.12)
Emerging rocket firm OrienSpace to construct AIT center in Haiyang near sea launch facilities (Orienspace, 10.12)
Interview with Hu Xiaowei of CAS Space, touching on space sector activity in the Nansha district of Guangzhou (卫星与网络, 10.12)
Politics and institutional news
CNSA head Zhang Kejian meets Italian ambassador to China. Among topics discussed was lunar and deep space exploration. (CNSA, 12.11)
Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology to build industry base in Pinghu, Jiaxing by 2025 (Hangzhou News, 10.11)
Chinese spokesperson provides a non-response to the recent Russian ASAT test when asked during a Regular Press Conference, Nov. 16. China has not taken a stance on the debris-creating ASAT test. (ForMin, 16.11)
CASC and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment signed a strategic cooperation framework agreement (CASC, 19.11)
CMSA makes announcement of opportunities for sending experiments on Tianzhou cargo spacecraft used for space station supply missions. (CMSA, ECNS, 24.11)
Wu Yansheng: Contribute greater strength to building a community with a shared future for mankind (CASC, 22.11)
Hypersonic wind tunnel ready (Global Times, Techxcope, 21.11)
CASIC makes progress on “Yunlong" engine for Tenglong spaceplane project (CASIC 31st institute, China Space News, 26.11)
Site China’s first sounding rocket (T-7M) launch site to become space theme base (Sohu, 30.11)
Argentina, China Expand space cooperation (TeleSur, Mercopress, sohu) 02.12
CNSA-State Space Agency Ukraine remote meeting - China expresses interest in cooperation (SSAU, Ukrinform) 02.12
  • Related: China’s Skyrizon takes Ukraine to The Hague over failed Motor Sich (SCMP)
Signing of “Roadmap for China-Russia Cooperation” Satellite Navigation (Beidou, 03.12)
Foreign Ministry Spokesperson statement on “No first placement of weapons in outer space,” using a question from The Paper to take a shot at the US and others for possessing “a Cold War mentality and ideological bias.” “China will continue to work with all parties, practice the idea of building a community with a shared future for mankind in outer space, and make positive contribution [sic] to defending lasting peace and common security in outer space.” (FMA, 08.12)
Exploration, space station news
Remnants rich in carbonaceous chondrites detected by Chang'e-4 – also notes meteorites’ role in delivering water to the Moon. (Nature, 25.11)
  • related: study raises the prospect that Kamo’oalewa could comprise lunar material (Nature).
“Questions to Heaven”: Write up from team members on NASA InSight’s attempts to “listen” for the Zhurong Mars rover landing, including collaboration from China (Astronomy & Geophysics, 23.11)
MUST Scientist eyes testing low-cost way of building moon base with lunar samples (Macau Business.com, 26.11)
Hong Kong team behind Chang’e 5 sampling set sights on Chang'e-6 – team who developed scoops and container for China’s lunar craft to assess whether adjustments are needed for the next mission, as samples arrive on Earth. (HK News, 26.11)
China’s Lunar and Planetary Data System: Preserve and Present Reliable Chang’e and Tianwen-1 Scientific Data Sets (Space Science Reviews, 30.11)
Chang'e-5 landing anniversary review (news and views article): Robotic sample return reveals lunar secrets (Nature, 01.12)
Chang'e-3: Lunar radar data uncovers new clues about moon’s ancient past – buried layer, called paleoregolith, may be much thicker than previously expected. (Pennsylvania State University, 01.12)
Geomorphic contexts, science focus of Zhurong landing site – Zhurong to target troughs and cones in the distance as it continues its journey south of its landing site (Nature, 06.12)
  • Related: Info on 3rd batch of lunar scientific research samples (CLEP, 09.11)
Related articles and developments
FOBS: The Chinese hypersonic weapon fired a missile over the South China Sea, according to a new scoop from the FT. The piece also raised more questions than provided answers. (Financial Times, 21.11)
  • Related: China’s missile turducken (Politco)
  • It’s a FOBS, Space Force’s Saltzman confirms (Breaking Defense)
  • China’s hypersonic test may take a page from DARPA’s past (Breaking Defense)
China’s Leo Group hits wall with $50m SpaceX investment plan (Nikkei)
  • Related: Tory Bruno reveals Chinese company tried to infiltrate ULA’s supply chain (SpaceNews)
Report: China’s Spaceplane Program (CASI)
ISRO-Oppo India deal: Row erupts over Chinese collaboration (Economic Times)
Japan, Vietnam to cooperate on space defense, cybersecurity amid concerns about China (The Hill)
Viasat, China Satcom to Provide IFC Service in Chinese Airspace (Via Satellite)
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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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