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China Space News Update - Issue #6

Andrew Jones
Andrew Jones
Updates, context and reports on China’s expanding space activities, with the latest civil, commercial, defence and exploration news.

This week: Shenzhou-12 outreach, Chang'e-5 intrigue, commercial and exploration roundup
A view of South Africa snapped by astronaut Tang Hongbo through a window of the Tianhe space station core module in September 2021. Credit: CMSA
A view of South Africa snapped by astronaut Tang Hongbo through a window of the Tianhe space station core module in September 2021. Credit: CMSA
Shenzhou-12 imagery
A second release of images taken by the crew has provided some more great shots of Earth. As of Monday, September 13, the crew have been aboard Tianhe for 87 full days and are expected to return to Earth later this week. Typically, information on timing has yet to be released (rumours of the 17th). Some rendezvous and docking manoeuvres involving SZ-12 and Tianhe could be conducted before reentry. (Sources: CMSA, High-res: weibo)
Shenzhou-12 vlog
Commander Nie Haisheng, Liu Boming and Tang Hongbo presented the Tianhe core module to university and secondary school students in Hong Kong on September 3. Domestic focus: Messaging to areas such as Hong Kong and outer provinces has been a main focus of Chinese astronaut outreach, which contrasts with Soviets sending cosmonauts abroad during the Cold War and NASA using astronauts as “goodwill ambassadors”. It will be interesting however to see which country sends an astronaut to the Chinese Space Station once fully operational after 2022. (Sources: Youtube, CMSA)
Chang'e-5 heads back to the Moon…and beyond?
Tremendous work from amateur satellite trackers has revealed that the service module for the 2020 Chang'e-5 mission has left its haunt at Sun-Earth Lagrange point 1 and made a flyby of the Moon early September 12. Where next? Possibilities include another Sun-Earth Lagrange point or Earth-moon Lagrange points, depending on how much propellant the orbiter has remaining and other factors. Another possibility could be using the flyby to set Chang’e-5 on a trajectory to flyby 469219 Kamoʻoalewa, a quasi-satellite of Earth and the target for China’s 2024 near Earth asteroid sample-return mission.
China’s Chang’e-5 orbiter is heading back to the moon - SpaceNews
Zhuhai Airshow preview
The annual Zhuhai Airshow (28 September - 3 October) will feature LOADS of space-related updates and exhibits, including an announcement about the 921 rocket/Long March Heavy CZ-5 DY triple-core human-rated launcher based on CZ-5 tech, two launches of which could be used for a 6-hour surface crewed lunar mission by around 2030, according to Long Lehao.
CASC subsidiaries will be presenting products (CZ-6A, on-orbit servicing, grid fins, Light Agile SAR Satellite, etc), as well as exhibits such as Tianwen-1, the return capsule for China’s new-generation crew spacecraft, Chinese Space Station and Chang'e-5 models and China’s first solar exploration satellite (CHASE). There will be much more too from commercial companies.
CNSA Watcher
[SAST’s new supplemental service aircraft in #Zhuhai Airshow] It’s a commercial service aircraft that takes over the attitude and orbit control of GEO satellite at the end of its life and prolongs its service life in orbit, helped by AI to identify target features and plan routes
Beidou short messaging service: trials for global SMS service are underway, adding that there are plans to roll out smartphones with built-in regional SMS functions by the end of 2021. CCTV reports the first phones with the feature will be available this year, with speculation it could the be Huawei Mate 50 series. (Sources: China Daily, CCTV/泰伯网。)
Commercial roundup
Space Transportation (凌空天行) conducted a flight test of a Tianxing-1 rocket (serial number Y8) on September 12, marking the third TX-1 test flight. no images were released, just as with the test of Tianxing-2 (Y1) in late August. Last month the hypersonic spaceplane firm announced a $46 million funding round. (Source: 凌L天行)
Galactic Energy (星河动力): An interview with CEO Liu Baiqi reveals the second and third Ceres-1 solid rocket launches have slipped a month to October and January respectively. Long term, Liu states GE is aiming to offer a price of 30-50,000 yuan/kg ($4.6-7.7K) to LEO with its kerolox Pallas-1 rocket by 2025, with the first flight planned for 2023. These prices will be similar to those of SpaceX, in the words of Liu. (Source: (
iSpace (星际荣耀) carried out a landing leg deployment test September 3 for the Hyperbola-2 two-stage methalox rocket. Hop tests have been expected to begin before the end of the year, with a potential orbital test flight in 2022. (Source: iSpace)
Orienspace (东方空间), which announced itself in June with $62m in funding for expendable and reusable launchers and aiming ambitiously to provide commercial crew flights and planetary exploration  has revealed a new logo and eschewed its earlier Sea Launch-esque renders (Source: Orienspace)
Xingyun LEO constellation plans were presented at “Second Future Space Technology Summit Forum”. The subsidiary of CASIC responsible for the IoT constellation, CASICloud-Tech co. ltd., raised 2.63 billion yuan in March. (Sources: Xingyun; funding: China Space News)
Beijing-based remote sensing satellite data analysis firm Four Squares Technology (四象科技) secures Pre-A+ funding. (Source: Sohu)
Deep Blue Aerospace (深蓝航天) provide a behind the scenes of the recent ~9-metre launch and recovery test of the “Nebula-M” test article. Unlike many Chinese launch startups DBA are skipping solid rockets and going straight for liquid launchers and reusability. (Source: DBA, hop test: SpaceNews)
The city of Suzhou is promoting a three-year, 2021-2023 plan to expand its aerospace industry. Space Pioneer (天兵科技) already has plans to establish a rocket manufacturing base. Suzhou joins cities including Beijing, Shenzhen, Shanghai and Guangzhou in enacting policies to promote their space or satellite sectors. (Source: 3snews, from April: Reuters)
The province of Jiangsu meanwhile aims to develop Beidou satellite navigation products and solutions during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025). (Source: Jiangsu gov, )
Deeper: Summary of 31 provinces & cities’ satellite industry policies in 2021 (Source: Qianzhan Research)
An expert committee has been established to promote the Golden Bauhinia constellation of optical remote sensing and synthetic aperture radar satellites for Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group Limited (香港航天科技集團/HKATG). Golden Bauhinia-1 (01) and (02), developed by ZeroG Lab, launched on a Long March rideshare in April. (Source: JRJ)
Exploration and space science
In addition to Chang'e-5 heading homewards, there’s lots of activity on Mars, the far side of the Moon and a new solar mission:
Chinese Hα Solar Explorer (CHASE)
China’s first solar observation satellite will launch in October, carrying an H-alpha imaging spectrograph. The ~500 kg CHASE (太阳Hα光) satellite will operate in a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 517 km and compliment the ASO-S satellite which is due to launch in H1 2022. (Background: Research in Astronomy and Astrophysics)
Yutu-2 is still on the go on the far side of the Moon. Gone are the days of bi-monthly wake-up and downtime reports and monthly drive diaries, but an update from China’s Lunar and Planetary Data System reveals all is well (if overshadowed by Zhurong).
Lunar day 33 was completed as planned in August, with Yutu-2 advancing to a total drive distance of 799 metres. Previous info was 738.6m after day 31. The rover is still moving well and continuing to head northwest of the lander to a basaltic region of interest to lunar scientists. (Source: Yuqi Qian)
Zhurong rover has passed the kilometre mark in total drive distance in Utopia Planitia on Mars but the 240-kg, solar-powered vehicle will soon go on standby for a 50-period. This is due to solar conjunction during which the Sun will interfere with comms between Earth and the Red Planet. Tianwen-1 will also be on standby, while Curiosity and Perseverance will persevere autonomously through shorter periods of interplanetary isolation. (Source:, CNSA)
China’s Mars helicopter prototype: New details reveal the helicopter would operate at a height of ~5-10 m, for around 3 minutes a go while reaching speeds of ~300 metres per minute. It will be charged by the rover rather than solar panels. (Source: China Science news, earlier report: SpaceNews)
Dark Matter Particle Explorer: Gamma photon data from DAMPE has been made public. DAMPE launched in December 2015 and detected a tantalising signal of decay of a dark matter particle according to research published in 2017. (Source: SciTech Daily, DAMPE, Xinhua)
Research Article: Chang'e-4: Rock Fragments in Shallow Lunar Regolith: Constraints by the Lunar Penetrating Radar (Source: JGR Planets)
CASC continues its 100 percent successful march towards its target of 40+ launches in 2021 with two more missions for north and southwest China:
Launch #32: China launched the Gaofen-5 (02) hyperspectral Earth observation satellite into Sun-synchronous orbit from Taiyuan at 0301 UTC September 7. (Sources: CASC, SAST,
Launch #33: Zhongxing-9B (ChinaSat-9B ) was launched into GTO from Xichang, September 9. Based on a DFH-4E state-owned communications satellite will provide live broadcast services, support 4K and 8K high-definition video program.
It will replace Zhongxing-9A over 101.4 degrees East, which lost more than two-thirds of its lifetime as it needed to raise its own orbit following a Long March 3B third stage issue during launch in 2017.(Sources: SpaceNews, CASC, SciTech Daily; bonus: great launch images: Twitter)
China launches ChinaSat-9B broadcast satellite - SpaceNews
Next up:
Yaogan-32 (02) from Jiuquan on September 13.
Tianzhou-3 to launch to Tianhe from Wenchang ~September 20.
Expace is planning to launch two Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket launches from Jiuquan later in September.
First launch (ZK-1A solid rocket) for Chinese Academy of Sciences’ spinoff CAS Space was earlier expected in September.
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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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