Thursday, May 3, 2018

Long March 3B Launches APStar-6C Communications Satellite into Space

Long March 3B launches APStar-6C communications satellite into space. Credit: Xinhua

China launched on Thursday, May 3 its flagship Long March 3B rocket on a mission to orbit the APStar-6C communications satellite. The booster thundered off the launch pad at 16:06 GMT (12:06 p.m. EDT) from the Launch Complex 2 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) in China’s Sichuan Province.

The mission was initially scheduled for March 9, 2018, however it was postponed to April 21 and then it slipped to May 6. However, Beijing decided to conduct the launch three days earlier, not disclosing what was behind this move and previous delays.

Although China has not disclosed any information about Thursday’s orbital flight, it is assumed that the launch vehicle’s ride to space lasted approximately half an hour. The mission ended with the deployment of the payload into a geosynchronous orbit.

Launch of APStar-6C occured about one and a half year after the satellite passed the Critical Design Review (CDR) in October 2016. In August 2017, the engineers completed mating of the spacecraft’s service, propulsion and communication modules. One month later the satellite was fully assembled and was ready for its shipment to Xichang, what finally took place on March 9, 2018.

APStar-6C is a commercial communication satellite based on the DFH-4 platform, provided by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which represents the breakthrough of delivering satellites to a leading international satellite operator by China space industry. The DFH-4 bus is described by China as having high-power output, a strong payload capacity, and an extended service life.

APStar-6C is equipped with transponders in 45 C-, Ku-, and Ka-band transponders, providing high power services to customers across the Asia-Pacific region, for VSAT (very-small-aperture terminal), video distribution, DTH (direct-to-home), cellular backhaul and mobility broadband applications. The spacecraft is fitted with two deployable solar arrays and is designed to be operational for 15 years.

The satellite will be operated by Hong Kong-based APT Satellite Company Limited. It will replace in orbit the APStar-6 spacecraft launched into space in April 2005.

The three-stage Long March 3B rocket used for Thursday's mission is currently the most powerful Chinese launch vehicle. The 180-foot (55-meter) tall booster, developed by CASC, is capable of launching up to 12 metric tons of payload into low-Earth orbit or 5 metric tons of cargo into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

The 3B/E version that was employed for the mission, is an enhanced variant of the rocket, featuring an enlarged first stage and boosters. This was introduced in 2007 to increase the rocket’s GTO cargo capacity and lift heavier geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) communications satellites.

Thursday’s lift off was the 274th mission of the Long March rocket series. It was also China’s 14th orbital mission this year. Beijing’s next launch is currently scheduled for May 21 when a Long March 4C booster will blast off with the Chang’e 4 lunar mission and two DSLWP satellites, designated DSLWP-A1 and A2.

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