The final Long March 2D of the year blasted off from Taiyuan Space Center in China’s Shanxi province. The primary payloads were the first two elements of the Gaojing 1 (or SuperView 1) constellation, intended to become China’s first commercial imaging satellite constellation, and compete directly with spacecraft such as the WorldView fleet. However, initial tracking data indicates some sort of anomaly, because instead of the desired circular polar orbit at an altitude of 500 km, they are orbiting in an elliptical orbit with an apogee of 524 km but a perigee of just 214 km. That perigee has them skimming the atmosphere; it’s estimated that the orbit could only remain stable for a few months. China has released no information, such as whether or not the satellites have sufficient propellant to boost their orbits independently in time to salvage some of their mission. That said, even if these satellites are lost, it isn’t the end for Gaojing: the constellation is planned to have a couple dozen satellites, so there is sufficient redundancy already. Still, I’m sure it’s a disheartening end to 2016 for the launch team.
With the next Proton launch now slipping into 2017, there is only one more launch scheduled for 2016: another Chinese launch, this one of a technology demonstrator satellite called TJS 2 that will test new broadcast communications technologies.