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DFHour #25: Hypersonic Missiles, Rocket Engines, Space Exploration

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 18-24 Oct 2021. Some big news this week, especially in the launch sector with the test of China’s most powerful solid-fuel rocket engine. The highlight of the week relates to the FOBS/hypersonic missile test by China. Enjoy this edition, and check out our weekly episode for more detail!
Highlight of the week
Saturday saw a report by the Financial Times that China had launched a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile on an around-the-earth trajectory back in August. The report, citing 5 unnamed sources, claims that China launched a rocket that carried a hypersonic glide vehicle that “circled the globe before speeding towards its target, demonstrating an advanced space capability that caught US intelligence by surprise”. 
Despite the great ambiguity surrounding this event, we do know that according to the FT, China launched a rocket carrying a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS), which itself carried a nuclear-capable hypersonic glide vehicle. These two technologies (FOBS and hypersonic gliders), described as “decades old” by Dr. Laura Grego of MIT, are both meant to evade traditional missile defense systems. More details on those technologies can be found in our weekly episode.
The report from the FT triggered significant international reaction, giving rise to a plethora of comments and speculations, and leading to calls for increased investment into missile defense systems - with the US’s current Ground-based Midcourse Defense System being designed to intercept North Korean ICBMs. For their part, the Chinese Foreign Ministry denied the reports of China launching a hypersonic missile, with spokesperson Zhao Lijian claiming that China had launched a “routine test of a space vehicle to verify technologies of spacecraft reusability”, and that the test would have “great significance for reducing the cost” of space flights, as “part of the peaceful use of space for humanity”. 
Interestingly, the week ended with a US Navy/Army joint hypersonic missile test on 20 October, which the US Navy characterized as a “vital step in the development of a Navy-designed common hypersonic missile, consisting of a Common Hypersonic Glide Body (CHGB) and a booster”.
The Week in Launch
The Week in Launch
Five pieces of news are worthy of attention this week. The first relates to CASC’s 4th Academy (aka AASPT)‘s 115 seconds test of a 3.5m-diameter 500-ton thrust solid-fueled rocket engine in their test facilities of Bailuyuan (白鹿原), Xi’an, on Tuesday October 19. The sheer size and power of this solid rocket booster are impressive: with a diameter of 3.5m and 500 tons of thrust, it is the most powerful solid-fueled engine ever tested by China. This achievement highlights China’s ambition in solid-fueled propulsion in recent years, when almost none of the Long March rockets use solid propellant - except the light-lift Long March 11. Academy director Ren Quanbin declared in an interview to CCTV that they were planning to go even further and design a 5-segment 1000-ton thrust solid rocket engine. If we learned this week that the 200t and 500t engines are to equip the future Jielong-3 and 3A rockets, manufactured by a commercial spinoff of CALT called China Rocket, the purpose of the future 1000t thrust solid-fueled engine remains uncertain.
Secondly, the commercial launch startup CAS Space tested a launch vehicle erector system, which can be used to provide more flexible launch location options for the company. A video released by CAS Space shows a large rocket being raised by the erector system, noteworthily the rocket has a CAS logo on one side.
Third, the Shijian-21 satellite was launched on 24 October onboard a Long March-3B rocket from Xichang. The satellite was developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), also known as CASC’s 8th Academy, and will be allegedly used for space debris mitigation technology testing and verification.
Fourth, we saw an announcement last week from the Government of Ningbo with more details on the city’s commercial launch site. The announcement last week primarily referred to the Ningbo Linhai Launch Support Facility Construction Project, which will include a rocket assembly test plant, a temporary control center, and the launch site itself. The launch site calls for a total investment of RMB 20B, and will be completed during the 14th Five-Year Plan period (2021-2025).
Lastly, We saw an article from CALT this week on the different variants of the LM-2F rocket, namely the T and Y. The major difference is the escape tower, which is present on the LM-2FY, with the article artfully referring to the tower-less LM-2FT as “bald”. 
China's 500-ton thrust solid-fueled rocket engine
China's 500-ton thrust solid-fueled rocket engine
The Week in China’s Space Program
Some news from the Zhurong rover! After powering down during several weeks due to the Mars opposition starting from late September, the Zhurong rover has resumed scientific and exploration activities over the past week. During the opposition, the Chinese engineering teams nevertheless maintained attempts to receive signals from the Tianwen-1 orbiter (as well as Mars Express), as a way to study the impact of solar radiation. These experiments were done in collaboration with Australian, European, Russian and South African observatories.
This week saw two announcements related to the second batch of samples from Chang’e-5. France’s space agency CNES reached a preliminary agreement with the CNSA on joint research efforts for Chang’e-5 lunar samples. The agreement calls for complementary cooperation in the form of personnel exchanges and joint research projects. The planned distribution of second batch of samples to research institutes was also announced. For the 1st distribution, samples were measured out in milligrams, and were given to, among others, Peking University, Tsinghua University, Macau University of Science & Technology, etc. A total of 17,936mg were given out to 17 institutions, out of the 1,731g of lunar samples brought back by  the Chang’e-5 mission.
Mars (quasi) opposition
Mars (quasi) opposition
The Week in Satellite Applications
Commercial satellite operator ADASpace signed an agreement with Huawei to build a “Chengdu Artificial Intelligence Innovation Industry Alliance”. The agreement was signed at the China Artificial Intelligence Conference in Chengdu. The signing follows another agreement between ADASpace and Huawei in October 2020 that called for collaboration in the field of smart city technology using space and ground infrastructure. 
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
The Shiyan-10 satellite, launched on 27 September, is showing signs of life. The satellite had initially been reported as experiencing anomalies, and recent activity has included several small burns in order to increase its altitude. Jonathan McDowell over at Harvard speculated that the small burns may have been using a backup propulsion system. 
On a different note, the commercial TT&C company Satellite Herd released a new TT&C Cloud Platform this week during a summit. The platform aims to provide a one-stop-shop for managing one’s in-orbit assets.
The Week in Policy & Events
China’s 338th Engineering and Technology Forum, named The Deep Space Exploration Science, Technology & Application Forum this year, took place from October 17 to 19 in Shenzhen. This is an event that takes place on a regular basis and on various science topics - and the 338th edition was dedicated to space, with participants including the Chinese Academy of Engineering, CNSA, CLEP, CASC, as well as representatives from the municipal gov of the city of Shenzhen and the HIT Shenzhen campus.
Some of the interesting bits came from the keynote speeches on October the 18th, which were broadcast live. Among the topics covered were the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS) project, jointly conducted by China and Russia, as well as China’s Mars mission. More specifically, there were presentations on how to harvest ice on the Moon (a major resource that can be used to produce oxygen and hydrogen, which are necessary for a sustainable presence of life, but also useful as rocket fuel), or how to harvest oxygen. Guo Linli, a researcher at the Institute of 508 of the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST), stated that China should not fall behind, and proposed an oxygen extraction experiment on an upcoming Chang’e lunar spacecraft using lunar regolith and employing a heating process to turn various oxides contained in the regolith into oxygen. Finally, the Institute of Space Sciences of Shandong University revealed that they were working on a method of extracting oxygen from CO2 on Mars, called glow discharge.
Poster of the 338th Engineering and Technology Forum
Poster of the 338th Engineering and Technology Forum
Other News of the Week
An article published by Expace outlined the company’s reaction to a handful of coronavirus cases that popped up in Northwest China in recent days. One of the results of the outbreak of cases is a likely delay of the upcoming KZ-1A launch, with the article mentioning that the KZ-1A team needed to go into lockdown.
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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