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.