Tianwen-1 surprises, primary mission complete
The year started with a surprise from Mars orbit, as it turns out Tianwen-1 was harbouring yet another imaging trick up its sleeve. It released a small subsatellite which returned some great images
of Tianwen-1 above Mars. It also returned video footage
thanks to a deep space selfie arm for the lunar New Year.
Since then, the orbiter for China’s first (independent) interplanetary mission has marked a full (Earth) year in orbit
and completed a global imaging campaign
to map the Red Planet with its MoRIC medium-resolution imager.
Meanwhile on the surface, the Zhurong rover in May entered hibernation
due to the low solar energy levels associated with winter in the northern hemisphere. Zhurong reached a total of 1,921 metres drive distance since its landing in Utopia Planitia in May 2021. It is expected to wake itself up in Spring, likely around December.
Both Tianwen and Zhurong rover have completed their primary missions. Science results are starting to come in from the pair, with data from Zhurong suggesting
that water may have been on Mars much more recently than scientists thought.
The Shenzhou 13 crew completed
the country’s first six-month-long mission in April, paving the way for repeated long-term human spaceflight missions to the under-construction Tiangong space station
Next up, the space station’s second module, Wentian, is expected to launch around July 23.
Launchers and launch rates
A very busy six months for launcher-related developments, even if China lags behind SpaceX alone in terms of launches conducted. CASC has performed 20 launches (plans more than 50
across 2022), including the debut of the Long March 6A
, a first Chinese liquid-solid combo launcher. Beyond CASC, iSpace failed with a third consecutive
Hyperbola-1 solid rocket launch, and Expace successfully returned the Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket to flight. Launch list at the bottom.
Beyond this, there have been a number of big funding rounds for Chinese commercial launch companies, including Galactic Energy ($200m
), Expace ($237m
), Deep Blue Aerospace
: undisclosed), Orienspace (January: $47m
, May: 59.9m
), engine maker Jiuzhou Yunjian ($15.7m), Space Pioneer
(strategic funding), RocketPi (undisc.
) and Space Trek
In February new concepts for launchers were revealed
by a senior official from the CASC’s China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, including a small version of Starship running on gas generator methalox engines.
Expect new launchers
including Zhuque-2, ZK-1A and Jielong-3 to launch in the coming months. Hop
tests from companies including Deep Blue Aerospace and iSpace are also possible.