Monday, September 14, 2015

China Sends an Experimental Satellite into Space on a Secretive Launch

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket, carrying the first Communications Engineering Test Satellite (TXJSSY-1), awaits the launch on Sept. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: News.cn

China successfully conducted a secretive launch on Saturday, Sept. 12, sending an experimental satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). A Chinese Long March 3B rocket, carrying the first Communications Engineering Test Satellite (TXJSSY-1), lifted off from the Launch Area 2 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 11:42 a.m. EDT (15:42 GMT).

The real identity of the payload is shrouded in mystery as very little information was released regarding the satellite and the purpose of this mission. Western analysts believe that the spacecraft is a military satellite dedicated to a missile early warning system. However, the state-controlled Xinhua news agency insists that TXJSSY-1 will be used for civilian purposes like performing tests on the Ka frequency band in broadband communications.

Japanese media reported recently that China is working to establish a missile early warning capability to be coupled with a ground-based radar system for advance warnings and defense capabilities. The reports were based on Chinese military documents that referred the development of an experimental early warning satellite program.

The Long March 3B rocket used in Saturday’s launch is China’s most powerful launch vehicle. The 180 ft. rocket is capable of launching 12 tons of payload to a low Earth orbit (LEO) and up to 5.1 tons to a GTO. The rocket is mainly used by China to place communications satellites into geosynchronous orbits.

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket, carrying the first Communications Engineering Test Satellite (TXJSSY-1), lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: News.cn
A Chinese Long March 3B rocket, carrying the first Communications Engineering Test Satellite (TXJSSY-1), lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: News.cn

The Long March 3B booster, derived from the Long March 3A version, features enlarged launch propellant tanks, improved computer systems, a larger payload fairing and the addition of four strap-on boosters in the core stage that provide additional help during the first phase of the launch. It also uses a cryogenic upper stage that provides re-ignition capability.

The rocket can also use the new Yuanzheng-1 (Expedition-1) upper stage that uses a small thrust engine burning and performs direct missions to GTO.

The rocket’s first launch took place in 1996 and ended in failure when it exploded shortly after the lift-off. It was tasked to deliver Intelsat 708 telecommunications satellite.

In December 2013, the rocket successfully launched China's first lunar lander Chang'e-3 and lunar rover Yutu or Jade Rabbit.

The next launch of the Long March 3B rocket is scheduled to take place in October this year. The mission will send a Chinese APStar-9 communications satellite into space.

Saturday’s lift-off was China's fifth launch this year and the 208th launch overall.

The Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, where the launch took place is situated in the Sichuan Province, south-western China. It is the country’s launch site for geosynchronous orbital launches.

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