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DFHour #26: Successful launch of KZ-1A, China-Europe Mars cooperation 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 DFHour China Space Newsletter for 25-31 Oct 2021. This week’s launch updates are emblematic of the pace of development in China, as well as of the strengthening of the rocket industrial base - as analysed in the Highlight of the Week section. Enjoy this edition, and check out our weekly episode for more detail!
Highlight of the Week
This week’s launch updates provide an illustration of the ways in which the launch sector is rapidly expanding, and testify of the broadening and deepening of China’s industrial base in the launch sector.
Beyond confirming its long-standing partnership with CGSTL, Expace’s successful Kuaizhou-1A launch may mark the imminent beginning of the company’s batch production of rockets at its launch vehicle manufacturing facility, built at CASIC’s Wuhan National Aerospace Industrial Base, and with a manufacturing capability of ~20 rockets per year. Moving forward, Expace also plans to batch manufacture KZ-11 rockets which are considerably larger. 
Rocket Pi’s announcement of its purchase of a rocket engine from JZYJ, a well-established engine manufacturer, may also be revealing of a developing trend of outsourcing the development of engines for newer launch companies. Other companies are also performing outsourcing of engines, including CAS Space, sourcing engines from fellow CAS company XAPT and, Linkspace which had previously announced a collaboration with JZYJ for engines.
Both pieces of news also confirm that nowadays, Chinese commercial space companies are developed enough to be each other’s customers. Another instance is the recently announced cooperation between Tianren Daohe and Space Transportation, whereby the former may be providing heat-resistant components to the latter. Such complementarity between Chinese commercial space companies can create positive synergies, potentially leading to even more exponential growth in the near future.
The Darwin-1 rockets currently under development at commercial company Rocket Pi
The Darwin-1 rockets currently under development at commercial company Rocket Pi
The Week in Launch
As mentioned above, three pieces of launch news are particularly worthy of attention. Let us look at each of them in greater detail.
First, Expace successfully launched a Kuaizhou-1A rocket from Jiuquan Launch Center on Wednesday 27 Oct, carrying the Jilin-01 Gaofen-02F satellite, also known as Changshu-1. This is the second consecutive successful launch by Expace of the Kuaizhou-1A, this coming ~1 year after the company suffered a launch failure in the 10th launch of the small solid-fueled rocket. CGSTL, China’s leading commercial EO satellite manufacturer and operator, has been a long time customer of Expace. This was the 7th CGSTL launch on a Kuaizhou rocket, with 2 of the launches having failed (one KZ-1A, and one KZ-11, both in 2020). This was also the 31st Jilin-01 satellite launched by CGSTL. The optical EO satellite can capture full-color images with resolution of better than 0.75m and multispectral imaging of better than 3m at a swath of 40km. Let’s be on the lookout for further collaboration between both companies!
Secondly, one of the newest commercial launch companies in China, Rocket Pi, inked a purchase order for rocket engines from commercial rocket engine manufacturer JZYJ on Otober 29. The purchase was said to be in the range of “tens of millions of RMB” (or a couple million US dollars), and will probably cover the first batch of engines that will be used by Rocket Pi to perform tests on its rocket prototypes. Founded in December 2020, Rocket Pi is a relatively latecomer in comparison to other commercial launch startups such as Landspace, iSpace, Galactic Energy or DBA, all founded before Rocket Pi. The company is in the R&D phase for the Darwin-1 rocket, a 2.25m diameter 2-stage launch vehicle that will be able to put 270 kg into LEO and 150 kg into SSO. According to a WeChat post by JZYJ, the first stage of Rocket Pi Darwin-1 rocket will use JZYJ’s heavier thrust Longyun engine (70 tons at sea level), while the second stage will use the vacuum-optimized Lingyun engine (12.5 tons). Purchasing off-the-shelf rocket engines is a way to save up a lot of development time and perhaps catch up on other launch companies; it could become a growing trend for later generation companies moving forward.
Lastly, Tianren Daohe ((天仁道和), a subsidiary of Beijing-based listed materials company Tianyi Shangjia (天宜上佳), signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Space Transportation (凌空天行) on 19 October, 2021. The content of the actual collaboration is unknown, but based on the thermal resistant components manufactured by Tianyi Shangjia (such as high-speed rail brakes), the company could be providing heat-resistant components to the suborbital rocket/ supersonic test vehicle manufacturer Space Transportation. 
Successful launch of Expace's Kuaizhou-1A
Successful launch of Expace's Kuaizhou-1A
The Week in China’s Space Program
ESA Operations Center announced on Wednesday 27/10 that the Mars Express orbiter, in orbit around the Red planet since 2003, would perform 5 data communication attempts with China’s Zhurong Mars rover. This is a new milestone in China-Europe collaboration around the Tianwen-1 mission, with ESA’s deep space ground station network having previously assisted the Tianwen-1 spacecraft after it was launched from Wenchang in the summer of 2020. More juicy technical details in our weekly episode!
Moreover, the head of ESA’s Moscow office, Rene Pischel, told the Russian news agency that Europe was mulling over joining the Russian-Chinese ILRS lunar station project, (aka International Lunar Research Station in full). Although it was already mentioned in the past by other ESA officials, but this is the first such update since China and Russia officialised their collaboration over the project in June 2021. In the near future, we could hence see Europe as a partner in both the ILRS and the US-led Artemis program. This is an interesting development, among a week of tough rhetoric between the US and China with China’s FOBS/HGV test.
Melacom communication system to be used for the experiment (Credit: QinetiQ)
Melacom communication system to be used for the experiment (Credit: QinetiQ)
The Week in Satellite Manufacturing + operation
No less than 5 pieces of news this week related to satellite manufacturing + operation. First, satellite manufacturer and operator Zero Gravity Labs set up a subsidiary in a China Telecom Innovation Park in Yancheng, Jiangsu Province this week. The company has continued to launch satellites with partners, including most recently a Golden Bauhinia satellite for Hong Kong-based HKATG. Yancheng is part of a larger space industry cluster developing around the Yangtze River Delta, and the CT Innovation Park has also seen projects from SOE giant CETC.
Second, according to NanoAvionics Twitter account, the company signed an MoU with Taiwan’s National Space Organization (NSPO), to help Taiwan develop capabilities in satellite manufacturing and mission service domains. Taiwan has been working to develop a commercial space sector focused on the island’s core competencies including semiconductor manufacturing.
Third, the Nantong Middle School EO satellite was manufactured by a consortium of companies including Zhongxinghang, Shanghai VSATTech, and a Nanjing-based Shanghai VSAT subsidiary called VSAT Data. The main customer of the satellite will be the Jiangsu Province Surveying and Mapping Engineering Institute
Next, Galaxy Space and Beijing University of Posts & Communications have recently announced the completion of a satellite - 5G network integration test. The experiment, led by the team of Pr. Deng Zhongliang from BUPT in collaboration with Galaxy Space (one of China’s leading satellite Internet solution provider and satellite manufacturer), enabled the verification of LEO satellite access network and of the reliability of end-to-end information transmission, with a spectrum efficiency more than 2x higher than that of China’s traditional satellite mobile communication methods. Moving forward, the two companies will launch a series of technology verification tests, including for on-board 5G signal processing and other technologies.
Lastly, Indonesia placed an order with Thales Alenia Space of France for the replacement of the Nusantara-2 (formerly Palapa-N1) satellite, which was built by China and failed to deploy after a 2020 launch. The order represents a win for one of the traditional satellite manufacturing powerhouses, and at the same time something of a loss to China, which would have presumably been under consideration for the replacement satellite.
The Week in Satellite Applications
Monday saw the announcement of a deal for a map optimization and environmental monitoring project between ADASpace and the Center for Satellite Application on Ecology and Environment of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, with the deal having taken place earlier in the month. ADASpace’s Nebula platform will be used to process and analyse data from 16 remote sensing satellites, the end goal of the Center being to engage in environmental monitoring in all of China’s provinces and cities. This is significant news for ADASpace, which is developing its own AI satellite constellation.
The Week in Policy & Events
Several noteworthy events took place this week, including the 2021 China Satellite Conference, the First China Planetary Defense Conference, as well as the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) and the CABSAT conference in Dubai.
This week in Beijing saw the 2021 China Satellite Conference (卫星大会), a major commercial satellite conference held every October at the New Century Nikko Hotel in Beijing. The conference is one of the oldest space conferences in China, having been held since 1999, with foreign commercial companies having been in attendance for most if not all years of the conference. Having attended for a few years, we’ve also seen the Ambassador of Sierra Leone to China as a conference attendee. This year’s edition saw speeches from most of the usual suspects, including China Satcom, China SpaceSat, CAST Xi’an INstitute of Space Radio Technology, Beihang, CETC 54th, Etc. 
October 23-27 saw China’s first-ever Planetary Defense Conference, held in Guilin, Guangxi Province. One of the major topics discussed in a conference debrief article was asteroid defense, including the fact that sending a nuke towards an asteroid is not a great idea, since the explosion can create many smaller asteroids with unpredictable flight paths. More effective weapons would be solar sails, lasers, and electric propulsion to nudge the object, slightly altering its trajectory. The timing is a little bit interesting given the recent launch of Shijian-21, which is reportedly meant for space debris mitigation. 
In the biggest space industry party since 2019, we saw two major conferences take place in Dubai. The International Astronautical Congress (IAC) takes place for the first time since late 2019 in Washington DC (a conference where Blaine shared an Airbnb with Landspace!), and is held with the theme “Inspire, Innovate, & Discover for the Benefit of Humankind”. The broadcast-focused CABSAT conference took place from 26-28 October in Dubai, and brings together satellite operators, broadcasters, and equipment manufacturers. Both conferences saw a decent Chinese turnout, including several Chinese commercial space companies with overseas presence. 
China's 1st Planetary Defense Conference
China's 1st Planetary Defense Conference
Other News of the Week
A devastating explosion at a laboratory of the College of Materials Sciences at the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA) killed 2 and injured 9. The NUAA, one of China’s top universities, is home to five provincial-level key laboratories, specializing in areas including nuclear energy and advanced materials. The university is also one of China’s top defense research institutions. An investigation into the cause of the explosion is ongoing. 
On 28 October, Chinese automobile manufacturer Geely’s space subsidiary GeeSpace released the GEE-HPM100, a electronics module destined to automobile satnav applications. The GEE-HPM100 module support dual satellite frequencies, enabling simultaneous use of mainstream satnav constellations such as GPS, Beidou, Galileo or QZSS.
Explosion at NUAA
Explosion at NUAA
This has been another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Space News(letter). If you’ve made it this far, we thank you for your attention, and look forward to seeing you next time! Until then, don’t forget to follow us on our website, YouTubeTwitterInstagramLinkedIn, or your local podcast source.
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