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DFH#24: Launch of Shenzhou-13, Nuclear-capable Hypersonic Missile Test announcement and more

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 11-17 Oct 2021. A lot of significant pieces of news this week, both in terms of national space program and of commercial/technical updates! As always, you can also check our DFHour weekly episode for more in-depth analysis of selected topics.
The Week in China’s Space Program
The evening of Friday 15th (UTC) saw the successful launch of the Shenzhou-13 crewed mission to the Chinese Space Station. A Long March 2F lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northern China, putting the Shenzhou spacecraft carrying 3 taikonauts into orbit.
The three taikonauts of the Shenzhou-13 crew were Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu, who were the back-up crew for the Shenzhou-12 mission which took place earlier this year. It represents the second flight for Zhai Zhigang, the oldest taikonaut and also the commander of the mission, as well as for Wang Yaping, the first woman to board the Tianhe core module. Yet it will represent a first flight for Ye Guangfu, the taikonaut that trained with ESA astronauts in 2016 and 2017. The team will stay on the CSS for 6 months, the longest consecutive stay ever for the Chinese, breaking the record of 3 months established just one month earlier by the Shenzhou-12 mission.
The Shenzhou-13 mission represents the 5th and final mission of the “Critical Technology Verification” Phase, the objective of which is to validate the performance of the Tianhe-1 core module from all aspects: life support systems, GNC, refueling, docking, power systems, communications, etc. We may be witnessing the routinisation of manned missions to the CSS, and the beginning of a sustained presence onboard the station. Whereas 5 years separated the Shenzhou-11 from the Shenzhou-12 missions, only a few weeks separate the latter from the current mission. International actors may also be flying to the station in the coming years!
Ye Guangfu, Zhai Zhigang and Wang Yaping
Ye Guangfu, Zhai Zhigang and Wang Yaping
The Week in Launch
This week was an intense one in the launch sector, with 4 noteworthy updates. On October 17, the report of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile test performed by China in August surprised many, including US intelligence. Two months ago, China launched a rocket carrying a hypersonic glide vehicle, armed with a nuclear warhead, that flew through LEO before “cruising down towards its target.” Although the missile missed the target by ~1200 miles, the test shows significant progress by China on the development of hypersonic weapons. Because the trajectory of hypersonic missiles is harder to predict compared to that of ballistic missiles, such weapons could potentially defy US anti-missile and early warning systems. Both China, the US and Russia are currently developing hypersonic weapons.
Secondly, Deep Blue Aerospace completed a 100m-level VTVL test of its Nebula-M (星云-M) rocket on 13 October. Between the wet dress rehearsal of their Nebula-M test rocket in December 2020, the first static fire test in mid-July, followed by a meter-level hop at the end of July, and the 100m level hop in mid October, considerable progress has been achieved in just 10 months. The test took place at the company’s facility in Tongchuan, Shaanxi Province, which along with neighboring Xi’an, has evolved into one of China’s leading space clusters. Xi’an, nicknamed “The Hometown of Chinese Aerospace Propulsion” (中国航天动力之乡), is likely to be the second-largest concentration of rocket companies in China, behind only Beijing’s “Rocket Street”. DBA will likely be performing many more such hops to gather as much data as possible to optimize the flight control systems for vertical landing. Vertical landing is a tricky technology to master, as illustrated by this first 100m-level hop: while the test was undeniably a success, you could also observe that the landing process was not as smooth as it could have been, and more work needs to be done during the final seconds of flight to guarantee a soft touch-down. In short, be on the lookout for news from DBA!
Thirdly, on Thursday afternoon China time, we saw a Long March-2D launch 11 satellites, of which 8 were smallsats in a rideshare organized by CGWIC. The largest payload was China’s first solar observatory, the China H-Alpha Solar Explorer (CHASE), which will image parts of the sun in specific wavelengths, aiming to capture phenomena such as solar prominences. The launch also included the Tianshu-1 satellite, an enhanced GNSS satellite bound for LEO and set to be operated by Chinese commercial space company FireEye Positioning (火眼位置). Shenzhen Dongfanghong, a CASC subsidiary focused on satellite manufacturing, had two of its satellites launched for different customers - the first being a “Commercial Meteorological Observation Constellation Test Satellite”, and the second a low earth orbit atmospheric density detection test satellite. Other payloads included 2x satellites for HEAD Aerospace, both of which are primarily Earth Observation with some location-based services element, as well as a couple of satellites for APSCO, one of which was done in partnership with MinoSpace. The launch also included a test satellite for HKATG. Finally, Satellite Herd announced that they had provided TT&C services for 6 of the satellites, including the 2x HEAD Aerospace satellites, Beihang SSS-1, the Shenzhen Dongfanghong Orbit Atmospheric Density Detection satellite, QX-1, and VDES. These few weeks, with the Zhuhai Air Show announcements, this launch, and several more launches before the end of the year, may mark the real beginning of the operational phase of the Chinese commercial space ecosystem.
Lastly, Space Pioneer completed the production and delivered the first 3.35m diameter LOX tank yet-to-be-flown Tianlong-2 rocket first stage (also referred to as “TL-2”). The structure was built with domestically-sourced LD10 aluminium alloy, of which the supply is “abundant and well-understood” according to the original post.
VTVL test performed by DBA's Nebula-M
VTVL test performed by DBA's Nebula-M
The Week in Satellite Applications
This week saw the public announcement of a deal made at the Zhuhai Air Show between AeroSat Link and Thales. AeroSat Link is a recently-created IFC-focused subsidiary of China Satcom, and has been tasked in part with commercializing ChinaSat-16 Ka-band capacity for IFC markets. The agreement with Thales is vague in nature, specifying that the two parties will work to use Ka-band capacity to bring a better in-flight entertainment and connectivity experience to passengers.
On October 14, EO analytics company Jiage Tiandi signed a strategic cooperation agreement with insurance company Fanhua Gonggu. The latter mainly offers insurance services in the automobile, medical, personal injury and agricultural sectors, among others. This piece of news comes a few months after the signing of a strategic cooperation agreement between Jiage Tiandi and the Jiangsu Provincial Department of Agriculture & Rural Affairs back in June 2021. In the same month, the company had also announced the project to build a Agricultural Financial Risk Supervision Platform jointly with Huawei. EO companies seem to be playing an increasingly strategic role!
Lu Chao, VP of Fanhua Gonggu (left) and Zhang Gong, CEO of Jiage Tiandi (right)
Lu Chao, VP of Fanhua Gonggu (left) and Zhang Gong, CEO of Jiage Tiandi (right)
The Week in Policy & Events
We saw a good summary of activity by Beijing-based rocket companies at the Zhuhai Air Show, held in Zhuhai at the end of Sept/beginning of Oct. Published by the Yizhuang area governmental newspaper, the article highlights the participation of Onespace, Galactic Energy, and Jiuzhou Yunjian, all three of which are significant activity in the cluster in Southern Beijing known colloquially as “Rocket Street”.
Other News of the Week
This week saw news of commercial launch company OneSpace moving forward with its planned IPO on the Shanghai STAR Board. We have seen rumors on OneSpace IPOing for some time, and the most recent article, while not conclusive, seems to indicate that they are moving in the right direction. According to people familiar with the matter, OneSpace now meets all listing requirements for the STAR Board, and plans for an IPO next year. Requirements include enterprise value of >RMB 1.5B, net income of >RMB 200M, and R&D expenditure being at least 15% of net income over the previous several years. The press release also noted that OneSpace has signed >RMB 100M of contracts during Q1 2021. 
Lastly, CASC commercial subsidiary CGWIC announced that one of its own subsidiaries, Shanghai Xingtai Property Management Company Limited, had opened a co-working space in Zhuhai. The ~2,300 sq meter office in the Zhuhai CBD includes a working area, bar, and leisure area, and is apparently the first in Xingtai’s Five-Year Plan to develop a co-working space business. No word on whether CGWIC will themselves be leasing space, but as we covered in our Beijing deep-dive, their own HQ is not too shabby!
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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