Chinese smallsat launcher delivers remote sensing payload to space

A Kuaizhou 1A rocket blasts off from the Jiuquan launch base Monday. Credit: CASIC

A Chinese solid-fueled rocket blasted off from the Jiuquan launch base Monday and successfully deployed a small commercially-focused Earth-imaging satellite into polar orbit.

The Kuaizhou 1A rocket, launching for the first time since a failure last September, took off from a remote launch pad at the Jiuquan space center at 2:19 a.m. EDT (0619 GMT; 2:19 p.m. Beijing time) Monday, Chinese officials said.

Powered by three solid-fueled stages, with a liquid-fueled orbit injection engine, the Kuaizhou 1A rocket arced toward the south from Jiuquan, a spaceport in the Gobi Desert of northwestern China.

Chinese officials declared the launch a success, and U.S. military tracking data confirmed the mission placed its payload in an orbit approximately 335 miles (540 kilometers) above Earth, with an inclination of 97.5 degrees to the equator.

The Kuaizhou 1A rocket is operated by Expace, a subsidiary of the government-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., or CASIC. Expace developed the Kuaizhou rocket family — based on Chinese military missile technology — to pursue a growing commercial space market in China.

The satellite on-board the rocket was Jilin 1 Gaofen 02D, a new member of a commercially-focused fleet of remote sensing satellites owned by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co. Ltd. Thirty Jilin 1-series spacecraft have successfully launched since 2015.

The Jilin 1 Gaofen 02D satellite is believed to be capable of collecting imagery with a resolution of better than 2.5 feet (76 centimeters), supporting applications in natural resource and environmental monitoring.

The Kuaizhou 1A rocket is capable of injecting 660 pounds (300 kilograms) of payload to low Earth orbit, according to Expace. Kuaizhou means “speedy vessel” in Chinese, a name indicative of its purpose as a satellite launcher that can be readied for liftoff in a short time period.

In a statement after Monday’s launch, CASIC said a factory in Wuhan, China, now has a capacity to produce up to 20 Kuaizhou rockets per year.

The launch Monday marked the 11th flight of a Kuaizhou 1A rocket since its debut in 2017. It was the 36th orbital launch attempt by a Chinese rocket this year, and the 34th successful one.

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