Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Long March 2D to Launch Zhangheng-1 and Six Small Satellites into Space

Artist's rendering of the Zhangheng-1 satellite. Image Credit: cses.roma2.infn.it

A Long March 2D rocket is poised to send the Zhangheng-1 Earth-observing spacecraft into space on Friday, February 2, along with six small satellites. The booster will take to the skies from the Launch Area 4 (LA-4) at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in China’s Gansu Province. Liftoff is planned for around 7:50 GMT (2:50 a.m. EST).

The mission was initially scheduled for August 16, 2017 but was postponed by almost six months. However, Chinese media have not disclosed what was behind this move.

Beijing has not revealed any details about the flight either. Given that Long March is tasked with delivering its payload into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), it is estimated that the rocket will most likely fly for about 10 minutes.

The mission’s main passenger is the Zhangheng-1 experimental seismo-electromagnetic satellite, also known as the China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES). It is a joint Chinese-Italian project dedicated for the observation of ionospheric precursors of earthquakes.

Zhangheng-1 was built by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and is based on the company’s CAST2000 platform. The spacecraft weighs about 1,610 lbs. (730 kilograms) and is fitted with one deployable solar array. It will reside in an SSO at an altitude of about 310 miles (500 kilometers), inclined 98 degrees, and will operated jointly by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and Italian Space Agency (ASI) for five years.

Zhangheng-1 will measure high-energy particles, plasma, electric and magnetic fields with a set of scientific instruments, including a High Energy Particle Detector (HEPD) and a Search-Coil Magnetometer (SCM). The data collected by the satellite will allow scientists to monitor electromagnetic and atmospheric phenomena, and study correlations with the occurrence of seismic events. They are also expected to provide insights into solar-terrestrial interactions, including phenomena like solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

Other Chinese satellites that will piggyback on Friday’s flight are FengMaNiu-1 and Shaonian Xing.

FengMaNiu-1 (or FMN-1) is a technology demonstrator developed by Link Space Aerospace Technology Inc., which will be used by this company to test new optical components in space. It will be also used as a repeater for amateurs worldwide via the onboard transponder system. The satellite is a three-unit CubeSat weighing around 6.6 lbs. (3 kilograms).

Shaonian Xing (“Youth Star” in Chinese) is a three-unit CubeSat with a mass of about 4.4 lbs. (2 kilograms), developed by teenagers as part of the Sat-China outreach project. The small satellite will be employed to engage youth in thinking about space, STEAM education, and satellite development.

On the mission manifest are also GomX-4A and GomX-4B six-unit CubeSats built by the Danish GomSpace company - a designer and manufacturer of nanosatellites.

GomX-4A will be operated by the Danish Ministry of Defence is a technology demonstrator, which main goal is to identify best-practice and future efforts reinforcing Denmark’s surveillance of the Arctic.

GomX-4B, operated by ESA, will test inter-satellite links and propulsive orbit control techniques for future constellation operations with GomX-4A. The CubeSat also carries the Cubesat Highly Integrated Memory Radiation Assurance experiment, known as Chimera, which is designed to test how ‘commercial-off-the-shelf’ (COTS) parts cope with bombardments of high-energy electrically charged atomic particles from the Sun and deep space.

Friday’s mission will also lift two small Earth-observing satellites, designated ÑuSat 4 and ÑuSat 5, built and operated by the Argentinian company Satellogic. Both are identical satellites weighing approximately 81.5 lbs. (37 kilograms).

The duo will replenish Satellogic’s Aleph-1 constellation aimed to deliver commercial Earth-observing services. When completed, the project will consist of 25 spacecraft orbiting in SSO at an altitude of about 300 miles (480 kilometers).

The Long March 2D launcher that has been selected for Friday’s flight is a two-stage rocket developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. It is mainly used to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). The 135 foot (41.15 meters) tall booster can launch payloads of up to 3.5 metric tons to LEO and has an SSO capability of up to 1.3 metric tons.

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

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