Friday, January 19, 2018

Long March 11 Lifts Off from Jiuquan with Six Small Satellites

Long March 11 launch on January 19. Photo Credit: Xinhua / Yang Xiaobo

China’s light-lift Long March 11 booster took to the skies on Friday, January 19, tasked with the delivery of six small satellites into orbit. The rocket was launched at 4:12 GMT (11:12 p.m. EST on Thursday, January 18) from Launch Area 4 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in northwestern China’s Gansu province.

After liftoff, the launch vehicle commenced a brief vertical ascent and then started heading South across mainland China in order to fly over Myanmar towards Bay of Bengal.

The timeline of the remaining part of the flight is uncertain as Beijing has not yet fully introduced the Long March 11 booster to the media.

The country keeps the details about this launch vehicle under tight wraps, having released very little information regarding its parameters and just a few images depicting the booster in action and during pre-launch preparations.

“China launched two high-resolution optical remote sensing satellites into a preset orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 12:12 p.m. Friday Beijing Time. (…) Also at Friday’s launch, four other small commercial satellites were on the Long March 11 rocket, including one for Canada,” the state-run Xinhua press agency reports.

The aim of Friday’s flight was to deliver half a dozen small satellites designed for a variety of purposes into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). The confirmed payload of the mission consists of two identical Jilin-1 satellites and four CubeSats, namely: Xiaoxiang 2, Huai’an, Quantutong 1 and Kepler 2.

The Jilin-1 satellites (Jilin-1 07 and 08), were 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.

China insists that Jilin-1 are commercial remote sensing satellites designed to provide high-definition video imaging. They are planned to acquire imaging, video, multispectral, and wide swath coverage of the ground from low-Earth orbit (LEO). The data obtained by these spacecraft will be employed for land resources monitoring, land surveying and mapping, mineral resources development, city construction, agriculture yield estimation, environmental monitoring, disaster prevention, and other services.

Jilin-1 07 and 08 follow six other Jilin-1 satellites that are currently operating in orbit. The next four spacecraft in the series are planned to be launched into space by the end of 2018.

In 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 some 137 satellites.

Xiaoxiang 2 is a six-unit CubeSat developed by Changsha Gaoxinqu Tianyi Research Institute. The satellite is a technology demonstrator designed to test a stabilization system for precise, stabilized camera pointing. It weighs approximately 17.6 lbs. (eight kilograms) and feature two deployable fixed solar arrays. The spacecraft will conduct the tests from SSO at an altitude of about 310 miles (500 kilometers).

Three more Xiaoxiang satellites, designated Xiaoxiang 3, 4 and 5 were also on the mission’s manifest, however their presence onboard the Long March 11 was not confirmed by Chinese media. The new launch date of this trio of spacecraft has yet to be announced.

Huai’an is a technology demonstrator developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). It is probably a two-unit CubeSat, with a mass of about 4.4 lbs. (two kilograms). According to Chinese media, Huai’an, also known as “Zhou Enlai” (after the first premier of the People’s Republic of China) it employs mature micro-nano satellite technology, integrates monitoring and control management, image data transmissions and voice data forwarding. Its payload includes a high-definition optical camera to capture photos of the Universe.

Xinhua has stated that the Huai’an project includes elements produced by teenagers of primary and middle schools, who participated in the development of the satellite.

“The satellite not only offers an opportunity for local teenagers to engage in such an aerospace project, but stimulates enthusiasm in space science among all students in the schools,” said Wang Qiming, director of the administration office of Huai’an Youth Comprehensive Development Base.

Quantutong 1 (QTT 1) is a navigation communication integration test satellite also developed by the Changsha Gaoxinqu Tianyi Research Institute. It is most likely based on a six-unit CubeSat architecture and has a mass of around 17.6 lbs. (eight kilograms). However, no further details about this satellite were provided by China.

A Canadian communications satellite, named KIPP 1, is also on the list of passengers of Friday’s mission, according to the China Great Wall Industry Corporation. It is a three-unit CubeSat designed for Internet of Things (IoT), machine-to-machine (M2M) and inter-satellite communications services. The small spacecraft was built by Clyde Space and will be operated by Kepler Communications.

The Long March 11 employed for Friday’s mission 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 and 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 a SSO. The rocket uses three solid-fueled stages with an auxiliary liquid-fueled upper module for precise insertion capability. The vehicle is utilized via a launch tube mounted on a road mobile vehicle.

To date, the Long March 11 booster has only flown to space two other times – its maiden launch was conducted on September 24, 2015 and on November 10, 2016 it carried out its second flight.

Friday’s launch marked the 264th flight of the Long March rocket series and Beijing’s fourth orbital mission this year (2018). It was also the 100th launch from JSLC to date.

The next Chinese mission is currently scheduled to take place on January 26, when a Long March 2C rocket is slated to send a trio of Yaogan-30 satellites into space.

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