As China advances forward its position in the international communities of spaceflight and astrophysics, it has placed the Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope (HXMT) “Huiyan” (Insight) into orbit aboard a Long March 4B rocket from Jiuquan Space Center in the Gobi Desert. It’s a completely new type of x-ray telescope, devised because Chinese manufacturing presently does not have the capability to build the super-flat mirror surfaces required for building a traditional reflector-style x-ray telescope. Necessity *is* the mother of invention, after all. As implied by its name, the HXMT Huiyan uses a technique called demodulation that uses much simpler detectors. Chinese scientists particularly hope to use this new instrument to study gamma ray bursts, which have become even more valuable targets now that gravity waves are detectable, as both can be caused by the same events. The international astrophysics community will be able to use HXMT Huiyan’s data in conjunction with that from other X-ray detectors, such as the venerable Chandra X-ray Observatory, NuSTAR, Swift, Fermi, INTEGRAL, HETE-2, XMM Newton, and the upcoming Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer, an instrument package that will be mounted on the exterior of the ISS later this year.
The Kaitouzhe-2 (KT-2, or sometimes TK-2) solid-fuel rocket made its maiden flight (unannounced, as is typical for Chinese government flights) from Jiuquan Space Center, placing a small payload into a polar orbit. Given the tendency to use liquid rockets for satellite launch services (they’re more versatile and more efficient), it’s been speculated that the rocket is really intended as a ballistic missile. (Solids are more practical for this purpose, as they can be stored indefinitely in a fueled state and require much less infrastructure to launch.) However, officially it’s a low-cost commercial satellite launch vehicle. That would also be plausible, since this vehicle appears to be suitable for the suddenly burgeoning small satellite business. They’re less fuel efficient than liquids, but they’re mechanically a lot simpler, which means they can usually be manufactured more quickly and in greater volume.
Anyway, if you’re like me, what you really want is to see a rocket. So here it is!
The first two launches of 2017 are complete: a Long March 3B carrying a technology demonstrator payload to geosynchronous orbit, and the first commercial Kuaizhou flight.
Long March 3B blasted off from Xichang Space Center last Thursday:
Close on the heels of that flight, a solid-prop Kuaizhou 1A rocket made its first commercial flight, launching from Jiuquan Space Center. This is the rocket’s third flight, but the first with a paying customer other than the Chinese government. Kuaizhou was developed as a low-cost rapid-response rocket that could compete favorably with the increasing range of commercial options presently on the market. The payload is a set of small commercial imaging satellites.
Falcon 9 was expected to also launch by now, but unfortunately the wild and wet weather currently soaking California has delayed the flight. The weather is not expected to clear up before they butt up against time scheduled for an Atlas V dress rehearsal, so the next launch opportunity is January 14, weather permitting. The FAA signed off on the accident investigation and gave the green light for the launch attempt a few days ago, so once the skies dry up again, they’ll be good to go.
This is pretty cool. Today a Long March 2D rocket lifted the Mozi satellite into low Earth orbit from Jiuquan Space Center. Mozi, also known as the Quantum Space Satellite or Quantum Experiments at Space Scale (QUESS), will conduct experiments into quantum entanglement. The cool part is that these experiments will be basically quantum communications experiments, making this the first quantum communication satellite in history.