Saturday, September 26, 2015

China Successfully Debuts Its Long March 11 Rocket

Long March 11 rocket on the launch pad. Photo Credit: Weibo via 9ifly.cn

China has successfully conducted a debut launch of its Long March 11 rocket, lofting four micro-satellites into space. The lift-off took place at 9:41 p.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 24 (1:41 a.m. UTC Friday, Sept. 25) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu. The rocket delivered a trio of Tianwang satellites and the Pujiang 1 spacecraft into a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of about 299 miles (481 km), inclined 97.3 degrees.

The Tianwang CubeSats (1A, 1B and 1C) were developed by the Shanghai Engineering Center for Microsatellites (SECM). They will participate in a series of networking experiments involving a small constellation of low-cost satellites. The main goal of the mission is to experiment with Software Defined Radio (SDR) in space. The amateur radio payloads will be used for exchanging Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C) information with the amateur radio ground control station. Information about the telemetry will be made publicly available so that radio amateurs around the world may track and monitor the health of the satellites.

The Pujiang 1 micro-satellite, built by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), is a technology demonstrator. It was designed to demonstrate miniaturized satellite components like heat transfer pumps and microprocessors. The titanium structure of its antenna was made by 3D printing in three days. It also features a Wi-Fi router allowing communication network between satellites.

The Long March 11 is a small solid-fueled quick-reaction launch vehicle developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). It uses the most powerful solid-rocket motor that is manufactured in China. It will be mainly used for launching micro-satellites.

The 68 ft. (20.8 m) tall Long March 11 is 6.6 ft. (2 m) in diameter and is capable of sending up to 1,500 lbs. to the low Earth orbit (LEO) and 770 lbs. to SSO. The rocket uses three solid-fueled stages with an auxiliary liquid-fueled upper module for precise insertion capability. The vehicle is launched from a launch tube mounted on a road mobile vehicle.

The Long March 11 rocket launch on Sept. 24, 2015. Photo Credit: Weibo via 9ifly.cn
The Long March 11 rocket launch on Sept. 24, 2015. Photo Credit: Weibo via 9ifly.cn

The successful Thursday's launch of the Long March 11 booster marked a major breakthrough for China in key technology for solid propellant rockets. Long March 11 is the next in a line of launch vehicles being inaugurated by the country as part of the beginning of a major transition in rocket technology, switching from a toxic propellant combination to environmentally friendly propellants for medium and heavy-lift rockets and solid propellant for light-lift vehicles.

Very little is known about the new Long March 11 rocket, as only few photos were released by the Chinese media. The manufacturing process of the Long March 11 was kept under wraps - no detailed technical information had been released after its development was announced in 2013.

The debut of Long March 11 comes just few days after the maiden flight of China’s other new booster – Long March 6 on Sept. 19, when it orbited a swarm of 20 small satellites. Thursday’s launch was also the 211th mission of the Long March rocket family and China’s eight launch this year.

Next Chinese launch is planned for Sept. 29, when a Long March 3B rocket will deliver the BDS I2-S spacecraft for the country’s homegrown BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.

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