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DFH#22: Zhuhai Air Show Rundown, Return to Flight of KZ-1A

The Dongfang Hour
The Dongfang Hour
Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, by Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville, and with editing by Orbital Gateway Consulting Analyst Aurélie Gillet.

What's up in Chinese Space this Week?
Welcome to the DFHour China Space Newsletter for 27 Sept - 3 Oct 2021. This week, the majority of the news comes from the 13th edition of the Zhuhai Air Show held from Sept 28 to Oct 3. Such a significant number of space-related updates is rather unexpected: the Air Show, held since 1996, has historically mainly been a hot place for civil and military aviation. As late as 2018, only one NewSpace company (iSpace) was present; this year, the entire space elite seems to have gathered! Updates from this event are hence at the heart of this week’s newsletter and DFH episode.
The Week in Launch
CGWIC (China Great Wall Industry Corporation, a CASC subsidiary) signed launch contracts with seemingly everyone this week in Zhuhai, including with Galaxy Space, MinoSpace, GeeSpace, and ADASpace. All launches are to be conducted in 2022. In the case of Galaxy Space, the six satellites, to be launched on a Long March-2C, are LEO broadband test satellites. For MinoSpace, the 2022 launch will be of 7x EO satellites ranging from a 0.5m optical satellite, 1m SAR satellite, and more satellites from the Hainan-1 constellation, on a Long March-8. The move solidifies MinoSpace’s role as an EO satellite manufacturer. Regarding ADASpace, the deal offered limited details, except that the company will be launching a “next generation AI satellite” on a LM-8 in early 2022. Lastly, GeeSpace has signed a contract with CGWIC for multiple Long March rocket launch services. In the article posted on Geespace’s WeChat account, it is mentioned that the launch contract will enable the deployment of the company’s GNSS enhancing + broadband constellation. It seems that CASC really hit the jackpot this week, with an article from the Air Show indicating that CASC signed RMB 3.8B in launch + commercial space contracts on 29 September.
Launch contracts have also been signed between commercial space companies. Minospace and Galactic Energy indeed officialised a partnership over launch services, according to which Galactic Energy will provide its Ceres-1 solid-fueled light lift launch vehicle to put into orbit the Taijing-1 and Taijing 2 (Xingshidai-12) satellites in early 2022. This will be the third launch of the Ceres-1, after 2 successful launches over the past year. Another satellite launch cooperation agreement has been signed between Spacety and China Rocket, though no additional information has been revealed.
Beyond contracts, we also saw some engines-related updates. A new engine was displayed in the CASC exhibition area: the YF-102 engine. Apparently this is a 85t thrust-class kerolox engine is in the final stages of testing, with 6 fully assembled engines having already performed test fires, including some that have lasted up to 200s. The engine could be operational by 2022, and the company is also talking about a reusable version of the engine, the YF-102R, that would be ready by 2026. Lastly, Xiao Yun, the chief designer of the Long March 8, revealed in an interview that CALT was considering setting a dedicated launchpad for the Long March 8 at the Wenchang Launch Center, and even went as far as saying that if two such LM8 launchpads could be set up, a LM8 rocket could be launched every 7 days – leading to 50 LM8 launches a year, which is more than China’s current total annual launches. If that is the case, the LM-8 could become the workhorse for constellation deployment, leaving little domestic market space for commercial companies developing medium-lift launch vehicles.
Outside of the Zhuhai Air Show, Monday the 27th saw the Kuaizhou-1A rocket return to flight, roughly one year after its most recent launch ended in failure, following 10 successful launches. The solid-fueled rocket, manufactured by CASIC subsidiary Expace, is designed for rapid-response and can utilize TEL. This week’s launch was of the Jilin-1 Gaofen-2D earth observation satellite, to be operated by CGSTL. This successful return to flight is big news for Expace. Fun fact, the satellite was also named after one of Tencent’s popular video games “Peace Elites” (和平精英), in an apparent collaboration between Tencent, CGSTL and Expace announced in May 2021.
Hypersonic vehicle company Space Transportation announced on Monday the successful 4th flight of its Tianxing-1 suborbital rocket. This comes just weeks after the company’s 3rd test flight, which itself was a couple of years after the 2nd one. No further details available as of now, but either way, impressive accomplishment from Space Transportation, which can count under its belt 2x funding rounds and 2x successful launches of the Tianxing-1 during a very busy third quarter.
Lastly, this week saw the failed launch of Shiyan-10 on a Long March 3B, representing the1st launch failure of CASC in 2021. After having successfully reached orbit, it was later declared that the experimental satellite was not operating normally and was hence a failure.
The new YF-102 engine, exhibited by CASC at the Zhuhai Air Show
The new YF-102 engine, exhibited by CASC at the Zhuhai Air Show
The Week in Satellite Applications
The Zhuhai Air Show saw the announcement of the Tianxian constellation (天仙星座), a 96-satellite SAR EO constellation to be co-developed by Spacety and the 38th Institute of the China Electronics and Technology Corporation (CETC). The companies made an agreement with CGWIC for a batch launch on a LM-8 in February 2022, and another in Q3 2022. If Spacety is one of China’s leading commercial satellite manufacturers, CETC is a (very) large SOE having recently acquired Potevio. The Tianxian constellation is likely one of the more credible EO constellations in China, and is but the latest example of the increasing attention being paid to SAR satellites (and constellation plans) in the country.
As reported above, Galaxy Space has signed a contract with CGWIC for the launch of 6 satellites in Q1 2022. Since having launched one of China’s first LEO broadband test satellites in January 2020 with its Yinhe-1, Galaxy Space has focused on developing applications and terminals using their Yinhe-1 satellite for application demos. This has included connecting a 4G/5G tower to Yinhe-1, and then connecting a cell phone to 4G/5G via satellite. If Galaxy Space’s 6x LEO test satellites perform well, it would be a big step in the right direction for the company to supply SatNet/GuoWang with satellites.
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
In Zhuhai, CASIC unveiled two new LEO communications satellite prototypes. The company emphasized its mass-manufacturing capabilities at the Zhuhai Air Show, in a clear nod to trying to win constellation business. Other than CASIC, we also saw APT Mobile Satcom (Shenzhen) book a turnkey satellite + launch for an apparent EMEA high throughput satellite, to be based on the DFH-3E platform.
Outside of Zhuhai, we saw Geely complete production of its first satellite from its factory in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province. As a reminder, the company hopes to manufacture several hundred satellites per year from its Taizhou facility within the coming few years.
The Week in China’s Space Program
First of all, China’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) was revealed to the public for the first time at the Air Show. If MEVs look like ordinary satellites, they serve a different function: they are designed to perform rendezvous with an aging satellite (generally in GEO), and extend their lifespan. This can be done by attaching themselves to the satellite and performing attitude/orbital control for the satellite, like Northrop Grumman’s MEV. Another method is to have the spacecraft refuel the aging satellite instead – which is the technical solution chosen by China’s spacecraft. This Chinese MEV is developed by the Institute 805 of SAST, and will carry 1.3t of fuel (~52% of its weight). According to Chinese reports, refueling a GEO satellite instead of launching a brand new satellite can save up to 35% in costs (although such figure varies depending on the satellite).
China also unveiled its first ever space-based solar imaging spacecraft, called CHASE, short for China Hα Solar Explorer, at the event. The spacecraft, weighing 550 kg, is planned to be launched before the end of the year. It will remain in Earth’s orbit, at an altitude of approximately 520 km in SSO; its main instrument will be a H-alpha imaging spectrograph (a deep-red spectral line at a wavelength of 656.28 nm).
China’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) displayed at the Zhuhai Air Show
China’s first Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV) displayed at the Zhuhai Air Show
The Week in Policy & Events
The main event this week was indisputably the Zhuhai Air Show where, as mentioned above, a plethora of Chinese space companies ran stands and exhibited their products. Among the spacecraft displayed to the public were the real-life Chang’e 5 return capsule, which was exhibited with an actual lunar sample (part of the 1.731 kg brought back from the Moon!). China’s first ever Next Generation Crewed Vehicle (NGCV), which can be understood roughly to be “China’s Orion capsule” was also there, along with a mock-up of the Tianwen-1 Mars lander and its Zhurong rover (on a surface of sand meant imitate the Martian surface), a replica of the Tengyun TSTO HTHL spaceplane currently being developed by CASIC, as well as several Long March rockets including the future lunar rockets the superheavy SLS-class Long March 9 and the Long March 5DY.
Two other events are worth mentioning. First, a ceremony was held in Beijing for the unpacking of the packages returned by the Shenzhou-12 crew. The Shenzhou-12 capsule carried more than 10 scientific experiments, including “space breeding” and “space biological experiments”. It also carried the Chinese, Pakistani and Namibian flags; the two later were handed over to Pakistani and Namibian representatives respectively at the ceremony. Lastly, a ceremony was held for the official opening of CAS Space offices in Guangzhou, Nansha District. The wholly-owned subsidiary will be in charge of the local industrial base, of which the first phase is planned to be completed in August 2022, and for an annual output of 30 rockets after completion.
Unpacking of the Shenzhou-12 capsule
Unpacking of the Shenzhou-12 capsule
This has been another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Aero/Space News(letter). If you’ve made it this far, we thank you for your kind attention, and look forward to seeing you next time! Until then, don’t forget to follow us on YouTubeTwitterInstagram or LinkedIn, or your local podcast source.
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