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The Dongfang Hour Newsletter - Issue #3

The Dongfang Hour
The Dongfang Hour
Your Weekly China Space Industry Summary, with a touch of eccentricity and some attempts at humor. By Blaine Curcio and Jean Deville, and with editing by Orbital Gateway Consulting Intern Aurélie Gillet

What's up in Chinese Space this Week?
In this week’s issue covering May 17-23 2021, we discuss the following:
  1. First images of the landing of the Zhurong Mars Rover, and some ambivalent comments by NASA administrator Bill Nelson
  2. Completion of first batch of tests for the Tianhe Module and U.S. concerns about the module’s robotic arm
  3. SASTIND Publishes New Regulations on Smallsat Manufacturing and their significance for the Chinese space industry
  4. Opinion Piece by Galaxy Space’s Xu Ming on China SatNet – and on the importance of developing China’s space commercial industry
  5. China Space News reports on the variety of advanced materials used in the Tianwen-1/Zhurong lander and rover
  6. Beijing Science and Technology Week occurs from 22-28 May with multiple commercial satellite manufacturers in attendance
  7. Launch of Haiyang 2D on-board a Long March 4B
  8. Commercial satellite manufacturer Commsat (九天微星) signs strategic partnership agreement with Baishadao Industry Development Co. (辽宁白沙岛实业发展有限公司)
  9. Beijing Four Squares Technology and Nanhua Futures signed an agreement to use EO data for financial industry applications.
  10. Third Anniversary of the launch of the Queqiao Relay Satellite, part of the Chang’e-4 mission to the Lunar far side.
  11. Successful first test run of the 20th thrust Xuanyuan-1 liquid-fueled engine by engine manufacturer Xi’an Aerospace (XAPT, or 西安中科宇航动力)
  12. Release of the 14th Five-Year “Beidou Application” Plan by China Southern Power Grid (南方电网)
  13. Chinese maritime satcom services provider Sky Sea World (天海世界) announces investment from Mengsheng Electronics (盟升电子)
1) Another Fruitful Week for China’s Space Exploration Program
As sort of a follow-up to the successful landing of China’s Zhurong lander/rover on the Martian soil last week, this week we saw Zhurong send back the very first images to Earth. Some of the images come from the hazard avoidance camera at the front of the rover, and show the flat environment where Zhurong landed, as well as of the thin ramps used to drive Zhurong down to the martian soil. Some shots were taken at the same time from the rear hazard avoidance camera, giving a nice view of the lander. Other images come from the navigation camera, situated on the fore mast, and pointing here at the rear of the rover, and clearly shows (in color!) its two rear deployable solar panels.
Zhurong Sends Back 1st Images of Mars, Tianhe Module Tests, SASTIND Smallsat Regulations - Ep 34
Worth noting, even if Zhurong had landed successfully on the 16th of May, it took the CNSA 4 days to publish the first images (on the 19th of May). The main reason it took so long is that it’s actually not quite easy to send data back to the Earth. First, direct communication between the rover’s steerable high-gain antenna and the Earth is rather limited. With a daily window of less than 30 minutes to communicate with the Earth and a data speed as low as 16 bps, this method is only used to transfer rover status info – and not images. Second, although indirect communication through a relay satellite (the Tianwen-1 orbiter) is more effective to send back data, communication is yet not continuous. Data from Zhurong can only be sent to the relay satellite when the latter flies over the former, and this only happens about once a day during a time slot of 8-10 minutes, where the rover is able to upload about 20 Mb in UHF frequency. When you consider that there were likely more critical data to send back to Earth in the early stages following the landing, you start to understand why it took a couple of days to get the images.
And fun fact of the day, NASA administrator Bill Nelson congratulated China for the successful landing of the Zhurong lander/rover, which does sound like rapprochement considering that NASA was rather silent (AFAIK) one month prior for the launch of the CSS Tianhe core module. In a statement, Nelson declared that “the United States and the world look forward to the discoveries Zhurong will make to advance humanity’s knowledge of the Red Planet”. However, at a Congress hearing, Nelson also brandished one of the pictures shot by Zhurong, and declared: “I want you to see this photograph. I think that’s now adding a new element as to whether or not we want to get serious and get a lot of activity going in landing humans back on the surface of the moon.” While it’s no scoop that competition between superpowers has historically boosted space exploration missions and budgets, I do think it was perceived rather negatively in China as a statement highlighting the US’s reluctance to see China succeed in space.
2) Completion of first batch of tests for the Tianhe Module
The other big activity of the week for China’s space program was in LEO, with the Chinese completing a number of important tests on the Chinese Space Station core module Tianhe, which was launched into space by a Long March 5B a couple weeks ago, on April the 29th.
天和核心舱完成在轨测试验证,这项“黑科技”你一定得知道!
Because the core module is meant to see a Tianzhou cargo supply mission and a crewed Shenzhou mission take place in the coming month or so, it has been undergoing intensive testing over the past few weeks. Tests were conducted on systems linked to the in-orbit rendez-vous and docking, the life support systems linked to the taikonauts living quarters, as well as the robotic arm which plays an essential role for the space station. This robotic arm can be used to monitor the surroundings of the CSS using its cameras, to move around both cargo and equipment, as well as taikonauts, and is able to perform so-called “crawling” maneuver where it can move around the full CSS to access different areas.
US concerns regarding the aforementioned robotic arm were reported by the South China Morning Post. The concerns were raised earlier this year by James Dickinson, Commander of US Space Command, in a Congressional hearing, and painted fears of the robotic arm being able to grab passing spacecraft.
3) SASTIND Publishes New Regulations on Smallsat Manufacturing
On 19 May, we saw SASTIND publish the “Notice on Promoting the Orderly Development of Small Satellites and Strengthening National Safety” (关于促进微小卫星有序发展和加强安全管理的通知). The timing is interesting, if not impeccable, just a couple of weeks after the establishment of China SatNet, the holding company for China’s large LEO broadband constellation. The ability to build and launch hundreds, or indeed thousands, of satellites is indeed necessary to build a LEO constellation. The published regulations will certainly make the regulatory requirements clearer, thereby enabling Chinese space companies to feel more confident about what they can and cannot do. Similar clarifications are likely to be developed in the launch sector.
A few other points worth noting. The SASTIND regulations put a strong emphasis on a responsible use of space, notably regarding passivation, deorbiting, collision avoidance, etc. These regulations will have to be taken seriously by Chinese satellite companies, with the SASTIND making it mandatory to provide a space debris mitigation plan alongside any launch service application. It also clarifies points on frequency applications, launch, and additional national security and licencing regulations to follow.Lastly, what looks like an encouragement to launch on domestic launch vehicles, could potentially be interpreted also as launching on Long March launchers (“鼓励利用国家任务配套运载火箭富余能力开展微小卫星搭载发射活动”).
4) Opinion Piece by Galaxy Space’s Xu Ming on China SatNet
On Tuesday 18 May, an article was published on Galaxy Space’s official WeChat account with the title “China SatNet is at the Right Time”. The author of the article was Xu Ming, the company CEO and one of China’s more noteworthy space industry entrepreneurs.
中国星网恰逢其时
First, a short background on Xu Ming and Galaxy Space. While most of the founders of China’s leading commercial space companies come from the traditional space sector, Xu Ming used to be an early employee at mobile app and security company Cheetah Mobile, a company currently trading on the New York Stock Exchange, and who’s valuation at one point exceeded $5B. Around mid-2018, Xu Ming left Cheetah Mobile and seemingly immediately thereafter, Galaxy Space appeared on the scene. The company has since pivoted from what was originally very clearly a satellite constellation business plan, to what is now a sort of satellite manufacturer/application development company, with an emphasis on areas such as 5G and IoT.
The opinion piece itself brings up some interesting points. First, Xu Ming points out that LEO constellations and the associated spectrum is by and large a first-come, first-serve market. That is, SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, Telesat, and a bunch of other western firms have applied for what is limited spectrum and begun to launch satellites into what is limited orbital space. Paraphrasing Xu here, China should make sure to grab their piece of spectrum and their piece of orbit before it’s too late.
Second, Xu points out that creating a specially-placed company and putting significant emphasis on building out a national broadband constellation in a relatively commercial way would be the first major industrial project undertaken by the Chinese space industry. If China’s space sector has evolved very rapidly, this evolution has indeed primarily been based on science & technology. By building out a space ecosystem that is itself so conducive to commercial usage (i.e. a satellite broadband network), China will inherently be opening up its space sector to some extent (again, paraphrasing here).
5) China Space News reports on the variety of advanced materials used in the Tianwen-1/Zhurong lander and rover
这些材料助力“天问一号”成功落火
We saw this week in China Space News an article about the various advanced materials that went into China’s Mars mission. The materials used in the Tianwen-1/Zhurong lander and rover included low-density, low thermal conductivity, ablative materials for the atmospheric entry phase, applied to the bottom of the capsule, special energy-absorbing alloys used in the landing mechanisms on the rover, and aerogels for rover insulation in the extreme martian thermal environment.
6) Beijing Science and Technology Week
亮点丨千乘探索快速响应服务系统亮相北京科技周
Beijing Science and Technology Week occurs from 22-28 May. This year, we have seen (so far) posts from MinoSpace and Qiansheng Exploration about their participation in this event. The event was done with heavy involvement from Zhongguancun High-Tech Park. Zhongguancun was the first major commercial tech hub in China, and remains one of the largest. The original area in Northwest Beijing’s Haidian District has since expanded, and Zhongguancun has since created newer and larger tech parks in other parts of Beijing and other cities in China. More recently, Zhongguancun has positioned itself as a hub for satellite manufacturing, in contrast to Southeast Beijing’s Yizhuang, which emphasizes rockets in a cluster built around CALT.
7) Launch of Haiyang 2D on-board a Long March 4B
祝贺!海洋二号D星发射圆满成功!
On the afternoon of 19 May 2021, China launched the Haiyang-2D satellite onboard a Long March-4B from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. The oceanic observation satellite joins the Haiyang-2C satellite launched in September last year, among multiple other Haiyang satellites. Like the other Haiyang satellites, this one was manufactured by SAST.
8) Commercial satellite manufacturer Commsat (九天微星) signs strategic partnership agreement with Baishadao Industry Development Co.
The aim of the partnership is to develop space-themed education and popularization projects in Baishadao district, Shenyang. Baishadao, also called Baisha Island Eco-Financial Town, is one of the more remote districts of the Eastern part of Shenyang, the capital of Liaoning. It is a prime example of the current push from China to develop eco-friendly new districts which combine natural scenery, sightseeing, residential areas, and industrial sites. Commsat was known to have since the founding of the company a space-education activity, including making space textbooks for schools and designing cubesats for educational purposes. This cooperation agreement with Baishadao shows the importance that Commsat continues to give this type of activity, and signs what seems to be one of its biggest space-education projects to date.
9) Beijing Four Squares Technology and Nanhua Futures signed an agreement to use EO data for financial industry applications.
四象科技与南华期货达成合作协议
Beijing Four Squares (北京四象爱数科技) is an EO data analytics company. They do not have any satellites of their own, but their CEO was quoted at a conference in late 2019 as expressing frustration with restrictions on buying certain images from western suppliers, leading to consideration to launch their own satellites to have their own sources of data. The company has signed agreements with multiple commercial companies, including Willis Towers Watson (always gets a nod from our co-host Blaine given the Chicago hometown connection!). The agreement with Nanhua Futures will utilize EO data to give Nanhua better insights into futures markets for metals, oil & gas, and other resources.
10) Third Anniversary of the launch of the Queqiao Relay Satellite
嫦娥四号“鹊桥”中继星在轨稳定运行三周年
This week saw the Third Anniversary of the launch of the Queqiao Relay Satellite, part of the Chang’e-4 mission to the Lunar far side. Queqiao and its “sister” satellites Longjiang-1 and Longjiang-2, were launched on 20 May 2018 and arrived at the Moon in advance of Chang’e-4, which reached the Moon in December 2018. The Longjiang satellites are particularly noteworthy due to their pretty cool name (Longjiang is Chinese for “Dragon River”, an homage to the province of the university that made the satellites, Harbin Institute of Technology in Heilongjiang Province, with Heilongjiang meaning “Black Dragon River”), and also due to the photos that came from the relatively simple satellites. There’s a great gallery here.
11) Successful first test run of the 20th thrust Xuanyuan-1 liquid-fueled engine by Xi’an Aerospace (XAPT, or 西安中科宇航动力)
兴伟业、争尖端 | “玄鸢一号”20吨级液氧煤油火箭发动机首次全系统试车圆满成功
Engine manufacturer Xi’an Aerospace (XAPT, or 西安中科宇航动力) successfully completed the first test run of the 20t thrust Xuanyuan-1 liquid-fueled engine. This first experiment aimed at monitoring the structure and various subsystems for any anomalies during the engine test run. Xuanyuan-1 is a kerolox gas generator cycle engine, and XAPT claims that it is the first Chinese commercial kerolox engine not using pyrotechnic igniters (note: which is an asset for VTVL launch systems).
12) Release of the 14th Five-Year “Beidou Application” Plan by China Southern Power Grid (南方电网)
China Southern Power Grid (南方电网) released the 14th Five-Year “Beidou Application” Plan, where it describe large-scale plans to deploy Beidou-based services across its power network, including positioning, time-frequency synchronisation, and a Beidou-specific short messaging system. This highlights how Chinese SoEs play a major role in the deployment of domestically designed and operated GNSS constellation, in replacement of GPS. The article mentions the risks linked to critical infrastructure in the case of a Sino-US conflict.
13) Chinese maritime satcom services provider Sky Sea World (天海世界) announces investment from Mengsheng Electronics (盟升电子)
Chinese maritime satcom services provider Sky Sea World (天海世界) announces an investment from Mengsheng Electronics (盟升电子), a satellite terminal hardware manufacturer based in Chengdu. Mengsheng Electronics’ product portfolio includes notably shipborne Ku/Ka band terminals, equating this investment to a verticalization strategy. Sky Sea World is one of the leading Chinese maritime satcom service providers.
This has been another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Aero/Space News Roundup. 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 YouTube, Twitter, or LinkedIn, or your local podcast source. 
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