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The Dongfang Hour Newsletter - Issue #4

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 24-30 2021, we discuss the following:
  1. Successful launch of Tianzhou-2 Cargo Mission, and yet another pilgrimage of China’s space fans to Wenchang Launch Center in Hainan.
  2. China’s Efforts to ensure a successful deployment of Zhurong on the Martian ground, including the replication of the martian environment in a lab by the Tianwen-1 technical teams
  3. Euroconsult Webinar Takeaways, including insights on collaboration between Chinese commercial space companies
  4. The core of the tower being built in Shenzhen by APT Mobile Satcom was topped out this week
  5. News about the Xi’an Satellite Control Center and the impact that they have had on utilizing space resources for disaster management
  6. Jiuzhou Yunjian (九州云箭) successfully performs multiple-restart hot fire engine test on 80t thrust methalox engine Long Yun (龙云)
  7. iSpace continues to perform increasingly complex tests on the Jiaodian-1 (焦点) methalox engine
  8. Interview with Sun Zezhou, Chief Engineer of the Tianwen-1 Mars mission, and associated article
  9. CNSA and Chinese state-owned (67% owned by Ministry of Finance, remainder is listed) insurance company PICC sign cooperation agreement over Chinese future lunar and space exploration missions
  10. 3SNews announced on May 18 that 9 space companies had each raised over 100 million RMB in a single funding round over the last 365 days, a number that Dongfang Hour finds suspiciously low.
  11. Ant Group CEO and Chairman Jing Xiandong announces multiple large scale financial measures to support the development and the digitalisation of rural areas
  12. Preselection of Chang’e 7 “popular science” payloads.
  13. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has approved eight Chinese names for Moon topographic features located around the area where Chang'e 5 landed at the end of last year
1) Successful launch of Tianzhou-2 Cargo Mission
This week, we saw the successful launch of the Tianzhou-2 cargo spacecraft from Wenchang, onboard a Long March-7 rocket. The Tianzhou-2 mission is the first cargo mission to be sent to the recently-launched Tianhe core module of the Chinese Space Station, and will be followed next month by the launch of the Shenzhou-12 crewed mission, which will carry 3 Taikonauts to the now well-stocked space station. The Tianzhou-2 vessel has successfully docked with Tianhe yesterday (May 30).
China Launches Tianzhou-2 Cargo Spacecraft to Space Station, Zhurong Rover's Deployment Prep - Ep 35
A few points to discuss, about both the rocket and the cargo vessel. This was the first launch of the standard LM-7 since April 2017, when we saw the Tianzhou-1 cargo vessel sent to the since-deorbited Tiangong-2 space station. Since then, we have seen two attempted launches of the LM-7A, a GTO variant of the LM-7, one of which was unsuccessful. Regarding the cargo vessel, this is the second time that China has launched its new-generation Tianzhou autonomous cargo vessel. Tianzhou-2’s orbital module has a small circular interface for the robotic arm end effectors to attach. Technically speaking, Tianzhou-2 does not need help from a robotic arm since it is equipped with a number of radar and laser sensors enabling the spacecraft to perform autonomous docking. The aim here is to test the robotic arm’s ability to help a spacecraft dock, as this will be how Mengtian and Wentian, the future experimental modules of the Chinese space station, will dock to the core module. Hence, Tianzhou-2 has a unique role in the Tianzhou series as a technology verification mission.
One last thing to mention is the pilgrimage of Chinese space industry fans going to Wenchang to watch the launch. In particular, a great video was circulating around Twitter whereby a news anchor was interviewing a handful of young people after the launch. The university students were wearing custom-made “China Space” shirts (中国航天), and were gushing about the pride they felt in seeing the LM-7 reach orbit. Impressively, one of the interviewees mentioned that they had traveled to Wenchang three times, with the first two launches being delayed. While it may have been hyperbole, one interviewee said that this was likely to be the event that left the biggest mark on her life (最深刻的印记). Good to see young people entering the workforce being enthusiastic about space!
For those looking for some additional information on Tianzhou in English, there’s a (dated) article from Spaceflight101 which is very resourceful. There is also a good piece on Zhihu (in Mandarin) discussing the aforementioned robotic arm interface on Tianzhou-2.
2) China’s Efforts to ensure a successful deployment of Zhurong on the Martian ground
The world is in the throes of a Martian Summer, with 2 rovers, a helicopter, and multiple orbiters traversing the Red Planet and its orbit. While we may not have breaking news every week, this is clearly a significant event for humankind. Given the role that China is playing in this Martian Summer, we plan to give you at DFH as many insights as possible every week on what is going on. 
In this week’s newsletter (as well as in this week’s episode), we want to discuss the measures and verification tests that were taken to make sure that the Zhurong rover made it safely down the ramp that led it from the lander platform to the Martian soil. The dangerous nature of the maneuver is confirmed by the amount of time it took Zhurong to prepare for this “drive-off”: Zhurong landed on Mars on May 14th, but it only left the lander 8 days later on May 22nd! Much data needed to be collected first.
Let’s briefly recap some of the things the Zhurong rover did upon landing.
  1. One of the first tasks of the rover was to image its surroundings with the two navigation cameras on the rover front mast, with the objective of getting a good understanding of the environment before the drive-off attempt.
  2. After imaging is performed comes step 2: 400 million km away from Zhurong, the Tianwen-1 technical teams set up a replica of the Zhurong rover and lander in a simulated martian environment, taking into account the inclination of the lander, the local topography, the amount of sunlight, and even the position of various rocks and obstacles captured by the Zhurong navigation cameras. The reproduction of the martian environment went as far as taking into account the lower gravitational field on Mars (roughly 3/8) by adding a sophisticated cable attached to the top of the rover and which would continuously provide an upward force of 5/8 of Zhurong’s weight on Earth.
After multiple trial-and-error attempts on driving off the mock rover, including trying different speeds and control parameters, the Tianwen-1 technical teams ended up getting a performance which was considered to be optimal for a safe deployment of Zhurong. These parameters were then uploaded from the replica to the real Zhurong rover 400 million km away to replicate the same descent.
Last fun fact, the descent time was 425 seconds, for rails that looked to be around 5-6 meters - that’s roughly 0.05 km/h!
More in the coming weeks on the Martian Summer of 2021.
3) Euroconsult Webinar Takeaways
Euroconsult hosted a China Space Industry webinar this past Thursday, and it was a doozy. Five panelists from five of China’s premier commercial space companies sharing the stage for an 80-minute conversation. Represented were 1x pure-play satellite manufacturer (Commsat), 2x hybrid manufacturers/operators (CGSTL, Spacety), 1x launch company (Galactic Energy), and 1x TT&C company (the brilliantly-named Satellite Herd).
The event will eventually be posted online, but in the meantime, a short summary of the main takeaways. First, according to company VP and Chief Engineer Zhong Xing, CGSTL is now at around 500 employees, of which more than 80% have a Masters’ degree or PhD. This would make CGSTL one of the larger commercial space companies in China, though still a drop in the proverbial bucket compared to behemoths like CASC (180,000 employees), or even high-level CASC subsidiaries such as CAST (~20,000 employees).
Another interesting point is the level of collaboration between those Chinese commercial space companies. First, everyone buys TT&C services from Satellite Herd. CGSTL buys payload-related parts from Commsat, while Spacety cooperates with both Commsat and CGSTL on different things. CGSTL, among others, have held talks with Galactic Energy about commercial launch services. It could be speculation, but it is possible that one of the elements that encourages the cooperation mindset is the extent to which commercial companies are living in a very different world from the SOEs in the Chinese space sector. In short, the precariousness of one’s existence as a Chinese commercial space firm might make it more advantageous to stick together with other commercial space firms.
4) The core of the tower being built in Shenzhen by APT Mobile Satcom was topped out this week
亚太星通卫星通信运营大厦核心筒封顶
The core of the tower being built in Shenzhen by APT Mobile Satcom was topped out this week. APT Mobile Satcom is a semi-commercial, partial subsidiary of CASC. The company was founded in Shenzhen in 2016, with shareholders including CASC/China Satcom, CTTIC, and the Shenzhen City Government VC. Originally planning to launch a constellation of up to 4x GEO-HTS with focus on mobility, the company has developed somewhat slower than planned, having to now launched only 1 satellite (Apstar-6D) which, to APT’s credit, has found major customers including Panasonic and Gogo. The company’s real estate ambitions are less apparent than their satellite plans, but may be more lucrative. The address of the tower is in one of the most expensive districts of Shenzhen, and the building will be quite a beast at 230m tall and with more than 100,000 sq meters of space. When considering the average price of real estate in Nanshan District of Shenzhen (approx. ~US$10,000 per sq meter), this could conceivably represent literally US$1 billion worth of real estate at current Shenzhen prices.
5) News about the Xi’an Satellite Control Center and the impact that they have had on utilizing space resources for disaster management
西安卫星测控中心调配多颗卫星支援抢险救灾
Xi’an Satellite Control Center is the highly underrated beating heart of China’s space infrastructure, with the site being home to China’s national TT&C center and a variety of affiliated infrastructure. The Center uses EO satellites such as Gaofen-1, Gaofen-4, Gaofen-7, etc. for disaster management purposes. For a deeper dive into the Xi’an space sector, check out DFHour co-host Blaine Curcio’s article in the upcoming Issue 32 of GoTaikonauts, available here in a month or two when it is published.
6) Jiuzhou Yunjian (九州云箭) successfully performs multiple-restart hot fire engine test on 80t thrust methalox engine Long Yun (龙云)
九州云箭“龙云”发动机完成多次启动热试车考核
The 80t thrust methalox engine Long Yun (龙云) produced by Jiuzhou Yunjian (九州云箭) successfully performed multiple-restart hot fire engine test. A few points to mention about this test. First, this is China’s first multiple-restart hot fire engine test, which shows continuous efforts to lead in launch technology. Second, the restart technology used for Long Yun has improved compared to the previous engine Ling Yun (凌云), thanks to the evaluation of the latter. Lastly, Long Yun constitutes a substantial step towards recyclable and reusable launch systems.
7) iSpace continues to perform increasingly complex tests on the Jiaodian-1 methalox engine
双曲线二号验证型火箭完成一级主动段及返回段飞行控制系统与发动机联合试车
iSpace continues to perform increasingly complex tests on the Jiaodian-1 (焦点) methalox engine which will power the Hyperbola-2 VTVL reusable rocket. The most recent tests included combining engine gimbaling and thrust throttling, fault detection, and pre and post-ignition automation. iSpace plans to attempt a first “hop” of a Hyperbola-2 prototype before the end of the year.
8) Interview with Sun Zezhou, Chief Engineer of the Tianwen-1 Mars mission, and associated article
这个带队探月探火的硬汉,为什么哽咽了?|“面对面”天问一号探测器总师
The article provides a great rundown of the activities that Zhurong will be getting up to during its mission on Mars, as well as the various technologies being utilized, including the “Martian Butterfly” look of the rover’s solar panels. The article also highlights the evolution of human talent in China’s space program. Dr Sun was apparently deputy chief designer for various missions at the age of 34, and has worked on both the Chang’e-3 and -4 missions. Now aged 51, Sun discusses in the article some of the changes that have occurred at CAST during his time there. When he first joined in the 1990s, they averaged around 1 mission per year. Things are rather busier now.
9) CNSA and Chinese state-owned (listed) insurance company PICC sign cooperation agreement over Chinese future lunar and space exploration missions
探索不息 人保护航:“中国首次火星探测任务独家保险合作伙伴”签约仪式在京举行
PICC, as well as other domestic insurance giants such as Ping’an, are long-time insurance partners for China’s domestic Long March launches. Noteworthy contrast with the west, where an increasing number of insurance companies are exiting the space industry due to the fact that it’s a very hard industry to insure–relatively high failure rate, and catastrophic cost in the event of a failure. It will be interesting to see the extent to which the high-level support for space in China more generally leads to (mostly state-owned) insurance companies to start insuring space missions.
10) 3SNews announced on May 18 that 9 space companies had each raised over 100 million RMB over the last 365 days in a single round
中科宇航、九州云箭等近10家空间科技单笔融资金额过亿 - 产业 - 泰伯网 | 科技赋能新经济
3SNews announced on May 18 that 9 space companies had each raised over 100 million RMB over the last 365 days in a single round. The companies are CAS Space, JZYJ, Aerospace Propulsion, WAYZ, Commsat, Qiansheng Exploration, Ubitrack, OneSpace and Deep Blue Aerospace. We at DFHour are a little bit confused by the article’s methodology, since by our count, there have been a lot more ¥100M funding rounds over the past 365 days, including CGSTL (¥2.4B in Dec 2020), Landspace (¥1.2 B in September 2020), and iSpace (¥1.19B in August 2020) among quite a few others. As well, we are unsure about the inclusion of WAYZ or Ubitrak as “space companies”, the former is a data analytics firm that may have some tangential relevance to EO data, while the latter is an advanced manufacturing firm that may have some business in space industry manufacturing. Either way, good attempt by 3SNews, and still a relevant commentary on the speed and scale of investment into the sector in the past year.
11) Ant Group CEO and Chairman Jing Xiandong announces large scale financial measures to support the development and the digitalisation of rural areas
蚂蚁公布数字化助农目标 网商银行:未来1年卫星遥感服务100万种粮大户-新华网
At the “Alibaba Rural Development Conference 2021” (2021阿里巴巴乡村致富大会), held in Lanzhou, Ant Group CEO and Chairman Jing Xiandong announced multiple large scale financial measures to support the development and the digitization of rural areas. Among them is the “Great Tit” digital project (大山雀, apparently Great Tit is a type of bird), which is a digital service relying on satellite remote sensing data to survey farmer rural parcels, enabling them to contract loans with banks. It was reported last year that one of the pain points hampering rural credit was the high cost of manual farmland survey, necessary for loans. Jing Xiandong stated the goal of providing such satellite surveying services to 1 million large-scale farmlands in the coming year. This could be particularly significant in China due to the nature of the country’s agricultural sector, namely one that is extremely fragmented and thus quite inefficient.
12) Preselection of Chang’e 7 “popular science” payloads
嫦娥七号任务科普试验载荷创意设计征集方案完成初选 入围名单公布
Interesting initiative by CNSA, whereby they have accepted around 60 applications for “popular science” payloads onboard the Chang’e-7 mission, to be launched around 2024. “Popular Science” refers to plans sent in by students from various levels of school. The article notes that of the 60 applicants, the panel of judges has narrowed it down to 20, of which 5 are from the “Elementary School Group”, 6 are from the “Middle School Group”, and 9 are from the “University Group”. A cool example of China trying to get younger people interested in the space sector through active participation.
13) The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has approved eight Chinese names for Moon topographic features
转发点赞!月球表面新增8个中国地名
The International Astronomical Union (IAU) has approved eight Chinese names for Moon topographic features located around the area where Chang'e 5 landed at the end of last year. The eight features are named after Chinese mountains and famous scientists in Chinese history. This brings the total number of Moon features with Chinese names up to 35, according to China Space News. Also of note for any Chinese mountaineers out there that the Moon now has a Huashan (华山). What a time to be alive.
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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