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DFH #40: Year of the Tiger 🧧🐯, US response to near-collision claims 🇺🇸 🛰️, China-Russia satnav agreement 🇨🇳 🇷🇺 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 Dongfang Hour China Space Newsletter for 31 Jan- 6 Feb 2022. First, a short welcome to the Year of the Tiger, and a Happy Lunar/Chinese New Year to all of our readers! This week saw announcements including a satnav agreement between China and Russia, US response to near-collision claims by China, updates on CAST’s satellite factory in Tianjin and much more. As always, check out our weekly episode for a more detailed analysis.
Happy Chinese New Year!
Happy Chinese New Year!
Highlight of the Week: Chinese New Year Wishes
This week saw the arrival of the Year of the Tiger, with Lunar New Year celebrations taking place across China and elsewhere. This year saw some cosmic New Year’s Greetings sent from China, and the people and robots that make up its space infrastructure. 
First, we saw some videos sent by the three taikonauts onboard the CSS conveying their Chinese New Year greetings. In addition to an impressive amount of red paper and other CNY essentials (it’s hard and expensive to launch all that into orbit!), we saw smiles and festivities from the surprisingly roomy-looking Chinese Space Station. The Shenzhou-13 crew, composed of Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, and Ye Guangfu, is a bit more than halfway through their ~6 months stay on the Chinese Space Station, being scheduled to come back to earth in around April 2022. 
Chinese New Year greetings from China's Space Station
Chinese New Year greetings from China's Space Station
Second, we saw a message delivered from considerably further than low-earth orbit, namely some amazing selfies and videos taken by the Tianwen-1 spacecraft, currently orbiting around Mars and supporting the Zhurong rover there. The camera was supported on a narrow, 1.6m long (possibly robotic?!) arm that was attached to the Tianwen orbiter, and is normally used by the CNSA to monitor the health of Tianwen. The video itself is stunning, with some incredibly cool images of Tianwen-1, its prominent solar panels, and various instruments onboard the orbiter. Throughout the video, you can progressively see Mars getting closer and closer, before finally getting a pretty full-on view of the ice-covered north pole of Mars.
China's Mars probe Tianwen-1 sends selfie video
China's Mars probe Tianwen-1 sends selfie video
Are we seeing the dawn of a Chinese version of Relativity Space? For some context, the latter is a launch company based in California which is known to exploit additive manufacturing (aka 3D Printing) to build its rockets. While 3D Printing is now more and more common practice for making rocket parts, especially for complex rocket engine parts, Relativity Space is unique in the sense that they plan to fully 3D print their rockets ( ~95%).
In China, launch companies that are all-in on 3D Printing like Relativity Space are very rare - but they exist: SpaceTai (太瀚航天), a Chinese launch company founded in March 2021, indeed plans to 3D print ~90% of its rockets. Last week, it announced its plans to design 2 rockets: the Feitian, a 2-stage medium-lift rocket (putting 4 tons into LEO), and the Feitian X, a heavy lift rocket putting 15 tons into LEO. Both rockets would naturally be reusable, performing VTVL.
At the core of any 3D printing rocket company is the mastery and the design of sophisticated 3D printing machines that are able to satisfy spaceflight requirements, as well as the according software. SpaceTai does have a 3D printer (the Xingchen S480), and has created a 3D printing rocket parts production line in Xi’an. They are also designing the Xingkong W450, which will be able to print pieces that are 4.5m x 4m. Although such capabilities may be below Relativity Space’s Stargate printer, it is still a good starting point to 3D print rocket bodies.
SpaceTai is aiming for a maiden launch in 2024, which is probably a bit (too) ambitious when we look at the time that Relativity Space has taken to do the same. Lastly, in terms of pricing,  SpaceTai has said that each rocket should cost 10 million RMB, or roughly 1.5 million USD, for a rocket that puts 4t into LEO – which seems very cheap (375$/kg) and is merely a theoretical figure. We will keep an eye on the developments of this company, and in the meantime, you can check our weekly episode for a more in-depth analysis.
The Week in Launch
The Week in China’s Space Program
On the sidelines of the Beijing Olympics, China and Russia signed an agreement to more closely integrate China’s BeiDou and Russia’s GLONASS satellite navigation constellations. The agreement was signed by Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin as one of 16 agreements. To give an idea of the order of magnitude of the meeting, one of the agreements was for 10 billion cubic meters of Russian natural gas per year to be sold to China.
The recent agreement is apparently a follow-on to the “2018 Cooperation in the peaceful use of the BeiDou and GLONASS”, an agreement that aimed to increase system compatibility and interoperability. This week’s announcement saw limited details about the 2022 BeiDou-GLONASS agreement, beyond an apparent emphasis on ensuring complementarity of system timescales. For example, if you had multiple BeiDou satellites covering Moscow at a given time, GLONASS satellites could devote more coverage to Saint Petersburg to increase accuracy there. Overall, a major series of agreements between China and Russia, though the satnav component was probably less near-term significant.
Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin
Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
This week in China Aerospace News (中国航天报), we saw an update from CAST on their satellite factory in Tianjin. For a bit of context, CAST has been in Tianjin since at least the end of 2008, when the company was given a piece of land in the city’s Binhai New District. Since then, CAST has developed a variety of facilities in Tianjin, most notably facilities used to manufacture the core and lab modules for the Chinese Space Station. 
More recently, CAST started building their smallsat factory in Tianjin in 2019, with plans to mass manufacture small (100-200kg or somewhat larger) satellites for constellations. The city added a satellite production line with annual production of 100 satellites in its 14th Five-Year Plan, published in 2021 and covered by Dongfang Hour at the time. This week’s update provided a deep-dive on the now-completed Tianjin facility, which is currently building ~3 satellites per week, and will eventually be able to build 4-5 satellites per week. While not specified in the article, CAST’s facilities will likely be targeting demand from China’s Guowang constellation of LEO broadband satellites.
A vibration testing machine at CAST's satellite factory in Tianjin
A vibration testing machine at CAST's satellite factory in Tianjin
The Week in Policy & Events
As we mentioned last week, China recently published its 2021 Space White Paper (English, Chinese versions). This year’s edition of the White Paper took on a somewhat different tone than previous years, taking a more global perspective in general, and making some bolder claims about the role of space in the coming 5 years
The takeaways can be divided into three main areas: more commercialization and broadening sources of innovation, more international cooperation, and an expansion of the space sector more generally. You can check out last week’s newsletter or this week’s episode for more details, as well as a piece by Lincoln Hines of the US Air War College for another interesting perspective on the China Space White Paper.
Other News of the Week
The United States responded to a Chinese filing at the UN regarding two alleged near-misses between Starlink satellites and the Chinese Space Station. As covered a few weeks ago on the Dongfang Hour, China made an official filing at the ITU that 2x Starlink satellites had come close enough to the Chinese Space Station to require avoidance maneuvers. 
The official response from the United States, also filed at the United Nations of Outer Space Affairs, noted that:
“If there had been a significant probability of collision involving the China Space Station, the United States would have provided a close approach notification directly to the designated Chinese point of contact.”
Lastly, this week saw the 2022 Winter Olympics kick off in Beijing, bringing with it a throwback to 2008 as many iconic stadiums, such as the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube are featured. The opening ceremony saw some coverage from China’s remote sensing companies, notably CGSTL, who got some cool (very) short video footage of the city and ceremony.
Separately, we saw a great collection of photos collated by 航天小报 showing the 2022 Beijing Olympics Insignia that was attached to the Tianwen-1 orbiter and Zhurong rover. The small plates show the Olympic mascots and logos, and adorn both spacecraft next to somewhat larger, more prominent Chinese flags. Good luck to all athletes at the Olympics over the coming ~week and a half!
CGSTL photo of 2022 Olympics kick off with Bird's Nest (top) and Water Cube (bottom)
CGSTL photo of 2022 Olympics kick off with Bird's Nest (top) and Water Cube (bottom)
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