View profile

DFH #43: a record launch signaling the arrival of rideshare in China 🚀 🛰️, a Chinese Saturn mission 🪐 🇨🇳, and much 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 21-27 Feb 2022. This week, in addition to the usual news roundup, we will present the first in our Orbital Gateway Consulting Insights series with a couple of high-level tidbits from some recent studies.
In China space news, last week saw a record for Chinese launches when a Long March-8 lofted 22 satellites into orbit, marking a major milestone for China’s nascent rideshare sector. We also saw the first-ever mention of a potential mission to Saturn, illustrating the country’s growing ambitions in space exploration, along with a plethora of other updates. As always, check out our weekly episode for more detailed analysis.
China's Future Launch Plans for Crewed Spaceflight, the Growing Trend of Rideshare
China's Future Launch Plans for Crewed Spaceflight, the Growing Trend of Rideshare
Highlight of the Week: a record launch signaling the arrival of rideshare in China
Launch of a LM-8 rocket from Wenchang, carrying a Chinese record of 22 satellites
Launch of a LM-8 rocket from Wenchang, carrying a Chinese record of 22 satellites
The Week in Launch
Earlier this month, we got a glimpse at the rocket technology that China is developing for the next 20 years. At the International Symposium on Cooperation on near-Earth Orbit Human Spaceflight, held in Beijing on February 17 and organized by the Chinese Society of Astronautics and the IAF, CALT’s director Wang Xiaojun provided useful details on China’s future launch technology for crewed spaceflight.
First, Wang Xiaojun presented China’s first future rocket: the Long March 5DY (aka the 921 rocket). This is a human-rated rocket using existing Chinese hardware and available in 2 versions: a plain 2-stage version carrying 14t to LEO, and a 3 stage version with 2 side-boosters (27t into LTO). While we already knew about such plans from the June 2021 presentation by Long Lehao, former chief designer of the Long March rockets, the real scoop comes from the way the Chinese want to reuse the first-stage: the actual landing will not use landing legs, but a tethered recovery system where the stage would be caught by a net and thanks to a number of hooks. Separately, the statements by Wang Xiaojun should be taken as somewhat “more official” than Long’s previous statements, given that Long has been retired for some time while Wang remains actively working with CALT.
Beyond this Long March 5DY, China has been investigating two additional concepts, the first being a Starship-like concept. The rocket would be powered by LCH4/LOX and the second stage would perform aerodynamic deceleration at various angles of attack depending on the speed, including horizontal deceleration (0° pitch angle), before performing a belly flop and landing vertically, similar to Starship. The first stage would land vertically in a more classical way. CALT having identified liquid methane as the ideal fuel for reusable rockets, methalox engines will be used. CALT’s rocket will be able to put 20t into LEO (compared to the 150t on Starship), and will be focused on cargo missions. 
Finally, China’s third rocket concept for future crewed spaceflight is a two-stage vertical take-off horizontal landing rocket, dedicated to sending taikonauts to the CSS, where both stages would be able to land horizontally. This concept matches well with Chinese spaceplane under development by CASC, CASIC (Tengyun spaceplane) and other commercial companies (iSpace, Space Transportation).
Moving on – as mentioned in the Highlight, CALT’s commercial subsidiary China Rocket (中国火箭) announced launch dates for the Jielong-3, which upon launch will be China’s largest and most powerful solid-fueled rocket. The company plans 3x Jielong-3 launches in 2022 (August, November, and December), and 2 more in H1 2023. Notably, the company has launch capacity left on all remaining 2022 rockets (300kg for the August launch, 200kg for November and December), and they have marketed the launches as being opportunities for commercial rideshare. This is but the latest example of the rush by Chinese commercial launch companies to serve the burgeoning rideshare market, with a plethora of Chinese satellite manufacturers planning to launch dozens to ~100 satellites over the course of the next few years.
Lastly, Commercial launch and missile manufacturer SpaceTrek (星途探索) tested its D140 cruise missile on Saturday, this the second time that the company has run such a test. One of companies that is most openly working on both military and civilian technologies, SpaceTrek was founded in 2015, and, along with about 10 other commercial launch companies, is HQed in the Beijing Yizhuang Economic and Technological Development Zone.
SpaceTrek is located at the heart of Beijing's launch cluster
SpaceTrek is located at the heart of Beijing's launch cluster
Orbital Gateway Consulting Insights Interlude
Recently, OGC has conducted a deep-dive into Chinese companies focusing on Satellite Internet (卫星互联网), a specific phrase added by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) to their list of “New Infrastructures” (新基建). Our research turned up 57 instances of companies mentioning Satellite Internet in their plans, in addition to several excellent deep-dive analyst reports written on the subject, including one written by Tianwang Securities (天网证券) before Satellite Internet was cool. Companies that came up in our research included Starwin (flat-panel antennas for satellite internet), Galaxy Space (manufacturing comms satellites), and China SatNet. Overall, China views Satellite Internet as a critically important piece of infrastructure, and the country is moving quickly to keep pace with Starlink and others.
For more info on OGC’s research into satellite internet, reach out to
Now back to the news!
The Week in China’s Space Program
Last week, China’s space program saw no less than four significant updates. First, Sun Zezhou of CAST was interviewed earlier this week, when he made mention of a potential Saturn mission, with this being the first time that China mentions such ambitions. Besides, Sun Zezhou also told CAST that China was ambitioning further exploration of the Moon and Mars, as well as of asteroids and comets, of Jupiter and the edges of the solar system.
Second, the joint mission between ESA and the Chinese Academy of Sciences successfully deployed a 3m long magnetometer boom under helium-filled balloons to simulate weightlessness, according to reports from “Our Space” as well as ESA. The mission aims to build a more complete understanding of the Sun-Earth connection, in part by measuring solar wind and the way that it interacts with the magnetosphere. The joint mission involves a magnetometer, platform, and mission and science operations from CAS, while ESA provides the payload module, launch vehicle, one of the scientific instruments, and part of the science operations.
Third, the emerging space sector in Anhui Province saw its latest development, with the CNSA opening a Deep Space Exploration Lab in the provincial capital of Hefei, in collaboration with the government of Anhui Province and the University of Science and Technology of China, one of the country’s leading universities.
Lastly, Harbin Institute of Technology and Beijing Institute of Space Mechanics and Electricity jointly published a paper proposing a multi-arm robotic mechanical system for an asteroid sample return mission. The system includes adaptive active buffering, ultrasonic drill attachment and fixation as well as a grinding-sweeping dual-mode sampling.
Successful deployment of a 3 m-long magnetometer boom under helium-filled balloons
Successful deployment of a 3 m-long magnetometer boom under helium-filled balloons
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
An article written by commercial TT&C startup Zhongke Tianta (中科天塔) was published in Satellite World this week. The article discusses the challenges of managing the increasing number of satellites being launched into LEO, as well as Tianta’s Tianshu-G100 satellite measurement and control platform, which the company plans to begin trialing in 2022.
Commercial TT&C startup Tianlian TT&C (天连测控) provided TT&C services to 19 of the 22 satellites launched on this week’s LM-8 launch, according to the company. The company has rapidly become one of China’s leading commercial TT&C firms, along with Satellite Herd (recently re-named Emposat), and the above-mentioned Zhongke Tianta.
Other News of the Week
A piece of debris is expected to run into the far side of the moon sometime on or around March 4th, and different people are making different claims about the nature of the debris. Initially believed to be an upper-stage of a SpaceX rocket launched in 2015, amateur astronomers and the NASA JPL have reclassified it as likely being the upper-stage of a Chinese rocket used to launch the Chang’e-5 T1 mission in 2014. The mystery deepened during a 21 February press conference with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, during which time Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Wenbin noted that the rocket from the Chang’e-5 mission had re-entered the earth’s atmosphere “in a safe manner and burned up completely”. Not mentioned during the press conference was the fact that Wang referred to the rocket from the 2020 Chang’e-5 mission, rather than the rocket from the 2014 Chang’e-5 T1 mission. Overall, many question marks remain.
China's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin
China's Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wang Wenbin
A deep-dive two-part article published by one of China’s leading space industry media sources, Satellite & Networks (part 1, and part 2). The articles offer some frank assessment of China’s commercial space sector, highlighting some of the many accomplishments, but also some of the issues China is still facing. The criticisms include a lack of centralized planning for commercial space, with the article pointing to the 20 companies in the TT&C sector as an issue (a figure that surprises us, given that TT&C seems to be one of the less-crowded areas of Chinese commercial space). 
Other issues that the article points out include a reliance on short-term, highly-speculative VC support, regulatory roadblocks, and teams that are primarily coming from traditional space sectors, and the fact that the Chinese space sector seemingly has not yet really taken stock of its core unique advantages, and has not really given very much thought to their value proposition in a global space market. 
Feedback? Let us know your thoughts on the newsletter at We’d love to hear from you.
Getting value from our content? Support us by buying us some coffee.
Want more of the Dongfang Hour? Check out our websiteYouTubeTwitter, and LinkedIn.
Did you enjoy this issue? Yes No
The Dongfang Hour
The Dongfang Hour @DongFangHour

Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, with a touch of eccentricity and some attempts at humor.

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Created with Revue by Twitter.