Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Long March 11 to Orbit Nine Small Satellites on Friday

Long March 11 launch on November 10, 2016. Credit: chinaspaceflight.com

China prepares to perform its four orbital launch this year, scheduled for Friday, January 19. The mission will see a Long March 11 booster sending nine satellites into space. The rocket will take to the skies from the Launch Area 4 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in China’s Gansu province. The exact time of the launch is yet to be announced.

Friday’s mission is slated to orbit a variety of small satellites designed for Earth observation, communications and technology demonstration purposes. However, although the mission includes one payload for a foreign country, China revealed very little information about the flight and pre-launch preparations.

Beijing has not disclosed any information about the flight timeline either. It is only known that all passengers of the Long March 11 booster will be inserted into the Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

The Earth-observing payload of Friday’s mission consists of two identical Jilin-1 satellites, designated Jilin-1 07 and 08, developed and produced by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co., Ltd. Each Jilin-1 spacecraft weighs around 209 pounds (95 kilograms) and has dimensions of 3.6 by 3.9 feet (1.1 by 1.19 meters). The satellites feature a fixed solar array and are designed to offer their services for more than three years.

Jilin-1 are described as commercial remote sensing satellites designed to provide high-definition video imaging. In particular, the satellites will deliver imaging, video, multispectral, and wide swath coverage of the ground from low-Earth orbit (LEO). The data obtained by these spacecraft will be used for land resources monitoring, land surveying and mapping, mineral resources development, smart city construction, agriculture yield estimation, environmental monitoring, disaster prevention, and other areas.

Jilin-1 07 and 08 will join six other Jilin-1 satellites currently in orbit. Next four spacecraft in the series are planned to be launched into space till the end of 2018. By 2020, Chang Guang Satellite Technology aims to have a network of 60 spacecraft in service, hoping that it will provide a 10-minute revisit capability of satellites anywhere in the world. By 2030, this network should expand to 137 satellites.

On the mission list is a quartet of six-unit CubeSats known as Xiaoxiang (Xiaoxiang 2, 3, 4 and 5). Developed by Changsha Gaoxinqu Tianyi Research Institute, the satellites are technology demonstrators to test a stabilization system for precise, stabilized camera pointing.

Xiaoxiang satellites weigh approximately 17.6 lbs. (eight kilograms) and feature two deployable fixed solar arrays. The quartet will reside in SSO at an altitude of about 310 miles (500 kilometers).

Another technology demonstrator that will be launched on Friday is the Huaian satellite developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). It is a small satellite, probably a two-unit CubeSat, with a mass of about 4.4 lbs. (two kilograms). According to Chinese media, Huaian employs mature micro-nano satellite technology, integrates monitoring and control management, image data transmissions and voice data forwarding.

Long March 11 will also send one more Chinese spacecraft into space – the Quantutong 1 communications satellite for All Graphic Location Network Co. However, no detailed information about the spacecraft was provided by China.

The only foreign passenger of Friday’s mission is the Kepler 2 communications satellite that will be operated by the Canadian company Kepler Communications. Built by Clyde Space, it is a three-unit CubeSat designed for Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine (M2M) and inter-satellite communications services. The first Kepler satellite was launched last week, on January 12, by India’s PSLV rocket.

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 China currently manufactures. It is mainly used for launching micro-satellites.

The 68-foot (20.8-meter) tall Long March 11 measures some 6.6 feet (2 meters) in diameter and is capable of sending up to 1,500 lbs. (700 kilograms) to LEO and 770 lbs. (350 kilograms) 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.

To date, the Long March 11 booster has flown to space only two times – on September 24, 2015 and on November 10, 2016.

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