Tag Archives: Long March 2D

Gaojing 1 commercial imaging satellites stranded in unusable orbit

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.


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Three days, three launches: ERG, Star One D1/JCSAT 15, and TanSat

2016 is wrapping up with some fireworks: three orbital rocket launches this week, and then possibly up to three more next week!

First off, on Tuesday, the Exploration of Energization and Radiation in Geospace, or ERG, spacecraft (to be renamed Arase after postlaunch checkout, after a river near the launch site) blasted off from the Uchinoura Space Center on the island of Kyushu, Japan, atop an Epsilon rocket.  The all-solid-prop Epsilon is a lower-cost replacement to the legacy Mu series of lighter-weight rockets, designed to require a very small launch team and capable of rapid deployment and hopefully to become a strong commercial contender internationally.  This is only its second flight.  Epsilon’s prime contractor is IHI Aerospace; Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which builds the much larger H-II rocket, is a supplier, as is NEC.  The payload, ERG, will be operated by JAXA on a highly elliptical orbit that will force it to pass repeatedly through the Van Allen Belts for the purpose of better understanding them.  It will join two NASA spacecraft already on that mission, permitting three-way observation.

Then there were two launches yesterday.  First, from Kourou Space Centre in French Guiana, an Ariane V heavy lift rocket lifted two commsats to geosynchronous transfer orbit: Star One D1, to provide television and telecommunications services to South America for Embratel Star One of Brazil, and JCSAT 15, to provide television services for SKY Perfect JSAT Corp of Japan.


And then overnight, a scientific Earth observation satellite designed to monitor CO2 levels, TanSat, launched into polar orbit aboard a Long March 2D rocket from Jiuquan in northern China.  The spacecraft will be capable of mapping CO2 concentrations down to four parts per million worldwide, and also carries instruments relating to cloud and aerosol detection.  Don’t be alarmed by all the sparklies you see falling — those are sheets of ice illuminated by the brilliant rocket plume.  Ice formation is extremely common on liquid-propellant rockets, since the oxidizer at minimum is chilled to cryogenic temperatures.

All of these launches were completely successful.  There are three more launches planned for 2016, and hopefully they will go just as well: another Long March 2D, a Long March 3B, and a Proton.

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Quantum Physics Satellite Launched by China

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.

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Shijian 10 lands after 13 days in orbit

China launched a spacecraft nearly two weeks ago: Shijan 10.  Today it returned its experimental payloads in a blunt reentry capsule.  Aboard were nineteen different experiment packages, including fluid dynamics, combustion, materials science, and biology.  One experiment carried freshly fertilized mouse embryos, which were allowed to develop and photographed every four hours during the mission to see what effect microgravity had on them, confirming that the embryos developed right on track with normal mouse development schedules.  I do not know whether they intend to implant any in female mice to see if they mature normally or if they will be discarded, but China described it as a critical step towards future human colonization of space, since these were mammalian embryos.  Silkworm embryos were also studied, as were plants to study the effects of cosmic radiation on them.  It may seem like a blast to the past, but in reality, the pace of experimentation in space has been extremely slow due to the great expense of launching things into space; to be brutally honest, we haven’t made a tremendous amount of progress since 1961.  But we are on the cusp of all that changing, not only with China entering the game, but also commercial spaceflight providers.  What we really need is for quick turnaround on experiments so that an iterative process can actually work, rather than the whole process for getting onto a launch manifest taking so long that you end up having to start over and over.  And hopefully once the crewed flight rate to the ISS increases, that will become possible.

Anyway, here’s Shijian-10 blasting off:

And here it is during recovery:


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Two more launches: Galileos from South America and a physics experiment from China!

There were two launches today in a busy month of rocket lifts.  First off, around midnight GMT or yesterday evening if one is in America, China launched the DArk Matter Particle Explorer (DAMPE) aboard a Long March 2D from Jiuquan Space Center.  DAMPE is China’s first dedicated astrophysics observatory spacecraft, but will not be the last as China plans a series of astrophysics spacecraft.  The probe will orbit the Earth and is equipped to detect gamma rays, electrons, and high energy particles in hopes of finding more clues about the nature of dark matter, and the team particularly hopes to detect annhilation events, when two opposing subatomic particles collide and annhilate one another.  The data set will be invaluable to scientists around the world in pursuit of the elusive traces of dark matter.

The second flight for the day came out of Kourou, French Guiana: a Soyuz rocket bearing aloft the latest pair of Galileo spacecraft for Europe’s nascent satellite navigation system, a competitor to GPS, GLONASS, and Beidou.

Note the curious hybrid launch complex at Kourou.  The Soyuz pad is nearly identical to those at Baikonur and Plesetsk, since they must service the same rocket, but there is also a vertical assembly building.  Soyuz is integrated horizontally and then erected on the pad, so what is the vertical assembly building for?

It solves a problem.  Soyuz was built as an ICBM first of all, and it had to be able to be fully integrated and ready to go inside a shed until called upon, and then hauled out to the pad by a train and erected hours before launch.  Thus, Russia is in the habit of integrating its payloads to the rocket in the horizontal assembly building as well.  But Europe is not.  Its satellites are not designed to be sitting on their sides for a prolonged period.  So a compromise was reached.  The rocket is assembled on its side, as Soyuz always is, but then is towed to the pad and erected without a payload.  Then the assembly building is pulled into place over the rocket and the payload is added on top.  Once checks are complete, the building can be rolled back and launch preparations can proceed as normal.

Thus, Kourou is the only place in the world where a headless Soyuz can roll around!

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China launches Tianhui 1C, and other spacecraft news

Tianhui 1C, a mapping satellite built for the same basic mission as the Landsat series, launched from Jiuquan Space Center on Monday, aboard a Long March 2D rocket:

In other spacecraft news, Dawn is moving into its final orbit around Ceres, a low one which hopefully will finally answer the many questions that have been raised about Occator Crater and other strange features of this surprisingly peculiar world.

And Cassini is preparing to dive closer than ever to Enceladus.  Tomorrow, the spacecraft will plunge deep into the water vapor plumes above Enceladus, directly sampling them.  This will not be its closest pass to Enceladus (that was the last pass) but it will be the closest that passes through the plumes.  Should be exciting!

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