Saturday, January 13, 2018

Long March 2D Lifts Off with LKW-3 Earth-Observing Satellite

Long March 2D lifts off with LKW-3 on January 13. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Wang Jiangbo

China has performed third orbital launch this year by sending its Long March 2D booster carrying the LKW-3 Earth observation spacecraft. The rocket took to the skies at 7:10 GMT (2:10 a.m. EST) on Saturday, January 13, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in China’s Gansu Province.

As usual, Chinese media remain tight-lipped about the preparations for the launch, the mission’s timeline and the nature of the payload – the LKW-3 satellite.

After liftoff, Long March 2D’s first stage controlled the mission for nearly three minutes. During this phase of the flight, the rocket started heading South, over mainland China and toward the South China Sea. When the core stage separated from the launch vehicle, the YF-24C cluster engine of its second stage was ignited, which continued the mission for the next seven minutes.

The second stage, tasked with deploying the LKW-3 spacecraft into designated orbit, finished its job about 10 minutes after liftoff. The satellite was then successfully inserted into a low-Earth orbit (LEO).

LKW-3 (Land Surveying Satellite-3, also known as Ludikancha Weixing-3 or Yaogan Weixing-33) was built by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). It is probably an electro-optical observation satellite based on the military Jianbing-6 series. The spacecraft most likely utilizes uses the CAST-2000 bus, which has a dry mass of about one metric ton.

China claims that LKW-3 will be used for civilian purposes. The state-run Xinhua press agency insists that it is a land-exploration satellite and therefore it will be mainly used for remote sensing exploration of land resources. However, independent observers suppose that LKW-3 is a military surveillance spacecraft.

The first Yaogan satellite was launched in 2006, whereas the second generation of the series was inaugurated in 2008. LKW-3’s predecessors, designated LKW-1 and LKW-2, were orbited by China on December 3 and December 23, 2017, respectively. The three LKW spacecraft will reside in LEO at an altitude of of about 310 miles (500 kilometers).

Besides LKW-3, the Long March 2D rocket was supposed to orbit also the Saudisat 5B spacecraft for Saudi Arabia as a secondary payload. The launch of this satellite is part of an agreement signed between Saudi Arabia and China, which dates back to January 2016. However, Chinese media still have not confirmed whether or not Saudisat 5B piggybacked on Saturday’s mission.

Saudisat 5B is an Earth-observing satellite developed by the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST). The spacecraft, weighing approximately 440 lbs. (200 kilograms), is fitted with solar cells and features a regionally optimized hyper-spectral imaging system. The satellite is part of Saudi Arabia’s 12 year space program, which includes launching KACST-built small satellites every two or three years.

The two-stage Long March 2D was rocket developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. It is mainly used to launch a variety of satellites into LEO. The 135-foot (41.15-meter) tall booster can launch payloads of up to 3.9 tons (3.5 metric tons) to LEO and has a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) capability of up to 1.4 tons (1.3 metric tons).

The rocket was launched for the first time on August 9, 1992, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. It orbited the Fanhui Shei Weixing FSW-2-1 recoverable satellite.

Saturday’s launch was the 263rd flight of the Long March rocket series. The next Chinese mission is currently scheduled to take place on January 19, when a Long March 11 booster will launch eight spacecraft for China and one communications satellite for a Canadian company.

Beijing has at least 30 more orbital flights on this year’s list. The record-breaking launch manifest includes the Chang’e 4 lander – the first spacecraft to attempt a soft landing on the far side of the Moon. The country is also working toward the debut of its new light-lift launcher, Kuaizhou-11, and plans to perform the first orbital launch from a sea platform as well.

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