China Launch Surge Left U.S., Russia Behind in 2018

Long March 2F rocket in flight carrying Shenzhou-11. (Credit: CCTV)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The year 2018 was the busiest one for launches in decades. There were a total of 111 completely successful launches out of 114 attempts. It was the highest total since 1990, when 124 launches were conducted.

China set a new record for launches in 2018. The nation launched 39 times with 38 successes in a year that saw a private Chinese company fail in the country’s first ever orbital launch attempt.

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New Chinese Booster Launches 3 Satellites

Xinhua reports that a new Smart Dragon-1 booster launched three satellites into orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on its maiden flight.

The rocket, developed by the China Rocket Co. Ltd. affiliated to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT), blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 12:11 p.m. (Beijing Time).

The three satellites, respectively developed by three Beijing-based companies, will be used for remote sensing services, communication and Internet of Things.

Different from the carrier rockets of the Long March family, the new Dragon series is developed in a commercial mode to meet the market demand of launching small commercial satellites, said Wang Xiaojun, head of CALVT.

The SD-1, with a total length of 19.5 meters, a diameter of 1.2 meters, and a takeoff weight of about 23.1 tonnes, is a small-scale solid-propellant carrier rocket capable of sending 200 kg payloads to the solar synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 km.

iSpace Launches Payloads into Space

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

iSpace, aka, Beijing Interstellar Glory Space Technology Ltd., has become the first private Chinese company to launch payloads into orbit.

The company launched its four-stage Hypobola-1 rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert on Thursday afternoon local time.

iSpace reported the rocket deployed the CAS-7B amateur radio satellite and a technology verification satellite for China Central Television. Three additional payloads remained attached to the upper stage as planned.

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OneSpace Fails in First Orbital Launch Attempt

This was the first orbital launch attempt by the Chinese commercial company OneSpace. The four-stage, solid-fuel OS-M booster apparently failed after first stage separation. The launch was conducted from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

CEO Shu Chang, whose company has successfully launched two suborbital OS-X boosters, vowed to carry on.

“We will endeavor to launch another OS-M carrier rocket, as well as two to three OS-X suborbital rockets before the end of this year,” Shu said late Wednesday at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, where the first OS-M rocket mission was undertaken.

“I accept today’s failure,” he said. “Other solid-propellant carrier rockets before ours also have had setbacks in their development, but all of them passed through hard times and eventually succeeded. Explorations in science and technology have successes and failures. We will never flinch or quit.”

The booster was carrying a small satellite built by the Chinese company ZeroG Technology.

The OS-M booster is capable of payloads weighing 205 kg (452 lb) into low-Earth orbit or 143 kg (315 lb) into sun-synchronous orbit.

This is the second failure by a Chinese commercial launch company. Last year, LandSpace’s Zhuque-1 rocket failed to reach orbit.











2018 Was Busy Year for Suborbital Flight Tests

SpaceShipTwo fires its hybrid engine. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 2 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

There were 15 flight tests of eight suborbital boosters in 2018, including six flights of two vehicles — Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard — that are designed to carry passengers on space tourism rides.

The race to provide launch services to the booming small satellite industry also resulted in nine flight tests of six more conventional boosters to test technologies for orbital systems. Two of the boosters tested are designed to serve the suborbital market as well.

A pair of Chinese startups took advantage of a loosening of government restrictions on launch providers to fly their rockets two times apiece. There was also suborbital flight tests of American, Japanese and South Korean rockets.

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Suborbital Flights Stopped Being So Humdrum in 2018

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo’s first flight above 50 miles on Dec. 13, 2018. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Part 1 of 2

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Throughout the Space Age, suborbital flight has been the least exciting segment of the launch market. Operating in the shadow of their much larger orbital cousins, sounding rockets carrying scientific instruments, microgravity experiments and technology demonstrations have flown to the fringes of space with little fanfare or media attention.

The suborbital sector has become much more dynamic in recent years now that billionaires have started spending money in it. Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic both made significant progress last year in testing New Shepard and SpaceShipTwo, respectively. Their achievements have raised the real possibility of suborbital space tourism flights in 2019. (I know. Promises, promises…. But, this year they might finally really do it. I think.)

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China Launches for 39th Time

China conducted its 39th launch of the year on Saturday with a successful flight from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

A Long March 2D rocket lifted off with the Hongyan-1 satellite aboard. It is the first spacecraft of a planned 300+ satellite constellation designed to provide global Internet service in the L- and Ka- bands.

The constellation is being developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

The booster also launched six Yunhai-2 satellites that will be used to study the atmosphere.

The launch came less than a week after the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corpopration (CASIC) launched the first Hongyun-1 satellite aboard a Long March 11 booster. Hongyun-1 is the first of a planned 156-satellite constellation designed to provide global communications beginning around 2022.

China’s 39 launches was the highest number ever for the nation. The country suffered one failure when the maiden launch of Zhuque-1 booster — developed by private startup Landspace — suffered a failure of its third stage.

The United States came in second place with 34 launches in 2018.











Landspace Identifies Reaction Control System Leak as Cause of Launch Failure

Landspace has concluded a damaged third stage reaction control system that developed a fuel leak caused the failure of the private Chinese launch company’s ZhuQue-1 rocket during its maiden flight on Oct. 27, GB Times reports.

The anomaly, which occurred 6 minutes 42 seconds after liftoff from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, made the rocket go out of control and sent the Weila-1 (Future-1) micro-satellite plunging into the Indian Ocean.

The conclusion is a preliminary one. The company is conducting additional analysis to confirm the finding.

It was the first orbital launch attempt by a private Chinese space company. A number of Chinese commercial startups are competing for business in the orbital and suborbital markets.

Landspace said the three-stage rocket reached an altitude of 337 km (209.4 miles), which means it entered space without achieving orbit.  The booster reached a top speed of 6.3 km/second (14,093 mph), which is below orbital velocity.











Chinese Commercial Rocket Launch Fails

Landspace Zhuque-1 booster (Credit: Landspace)

Chinese private launch company LandSpace suffered a setback on Saturday when its new three-stage Zhuque-1 small satellite booster failed on its inaugural launch.

Posted video shows the solid-fuel booster taking off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. However, media reports indicate the launch vehicle failed to orbit the Weilai-1 microsatellite aboard after the failure of attitude control on the third stage.

LandSpace is one of several private Chinese launch companies hoping to grab a share of the global market.

It was China’s 30th launch of the year and its first failure.











China’s OneSpace Launches Suborbital Booster

OneSpace launched the OS-X1 suborbital rocket on Friday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in another step toward orbital flights for the Chinese commercial launch company, according to media reports.

Gbtimes reports the solid-fuel Chongqing Liangjiang Star booster reached an altitude of about 35 kilometer during a 3m 20s flight. The first flight of the suborbital rocket was conducted in May.

The flight was captured from space by the Jilin-1, which was passing overhead at the time.

The suborbital flights are testing technology for the company’s larger OS-XM orbital booster. The company is planning a flight test of that rocket by the end of the year.

The flight came two days after Chinese rival iSpace launched its Hyperbola-1Z suborbital rocket from Jiuquan. iSpace also has plans for an orbital launch vehicle and a space plane.

A third commercial launch firm, Landspace,  plans to launch the orbital Zhuque-1 rocket next month.











Chinese Startup iSpace Launches Suborbital Rocket

Hyperbolic XQS-1X rocket (Credit: iSpace)

Chinese commercial launch provider iSpace successfully launched its Hyperbola-1Z suborbital booster with three payloads aboard from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on Wednesday at 1 p.m. local time (0500 UTC), according to media reports.

The 9-meter (29.5-foot) tall, single stage solid-fuel rocket reached an altitude of 175 km (108 miles) and deployed the three suborbital payloads. One of the payloads parachuted back to Earth, media reports say.

In April, the company launched the suborbital Hyperbola-1S rocket to an altitude of 40 km (29.85 miles).

iSpace completed a series A round of fundraising in July that brought the total amount raised to 600 million yuan ($90 million) in 2018. The round was led by Matrix Partners China.

The company has plans to develop an orbital satellite launcher as well as a space plane.











Landspace Nears First Launch

Landspace Zhuque-1 booster (Credit: Landspace)

Gbtimes reports that Chinese startup Landspace is likely to launch the Zhuque-1 rocket next month in what would be the first privately developed orbital vehicle produced in that nation.

Aboard will be a small satellite named Future (Weilai-1/未来一号) for China Central Television (CCTV), which will carry out remote sensing and feature in a TV show.

Zhuque-1 is a 19-metre-tall, 1.35-metre-diameter three-stage rocket with a takeoff mass of 27 metric tonnes, producing thrust of 45 tonnes, making it capable of lifting 200 kg to 500 km Sun-synchronous orbit and 300 kg to a 300 km low Earth orbit.

According to Chinese state media, the rocket will be launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China. In September another company, OneSpace, will launch the first private suborbital rocket from Jiuquan, following its debut launch in May from a site in northwest China.

“The ZQ-1 rocket is a result of civil-military integration and also a product of China’s positive polices of developing a commercial space industry. In the future it can meet the demands of commercial satellite launches and undertake some tasks for the country,” Landspace CEO Zhang Changwu told CCTV+.











Mid-Year Global Launch Report: China & USA Continue to Battle for Lead

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the NROL-47 mission lifts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (Credit: ULA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers were extremely busy in the first half of 2018, with China and the United States battling for the lead.

There with 55 orbital launches through the end of June, which amounted to a launch every 3.29 days or 79 hours. The total is more than half the 90 launches attempted in 2017. With approximately 42 missions scheduled for the last six months of the year, the total could reach 97. (more…)











China Launches Remote Sensing Satellite, SpaceX Plans Early Monday Flight

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

At least 10 launches are planned worldwide this month. The launches include crew and cargo missions to the International Space Station and the first commercial flight of Rocket Lab’s Electron booster. Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL will launch NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) from the Marshall Islands on June 14.

China got June off to a successful start on Saturday with the launch of the Gaofen-6 remote sensing satellite aboard a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

SpaceX is up next, with an early morning launch on Monday morning. A Falcon 9 is set to launch the SES 12 communications satellite from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The four-hour launch window opens at 12:29 a.m. EDT (0429 GMT). The company has no plans to recover the previously used first stage.

The current launch schedule is below. View updates here.

JUNE 2018

June 2

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2D
Payload: Gaofen 6 remote sensing satellite
Launch Site: Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China
Outcome: Success

June 4

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: SES 12 communications satellite
Launch Window: 12:29-1:27 a.m. EDT (0429-0527 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com

June 6

Launch Vehicle: Soyuz
Payload: ISS 55S Crew flight
Launch Time: 7:11 a.m. EDT (1111 GMT)
Launch Site: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Webcast: www.nasa.gov

June 11

Launch Vehicle: H-2A
Payload: IGS Radar 6 reconnaissance satellite
Launch Window: 12:00-2:00 a.m. EDT (0400-0600 GMT)
Launch Site: Tanegashima Space Center, Japan

June 14

Launch Vehicle: Pegasus XL
Payload: NASA Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) satellite
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: L-1011, Kwajalein, Marshall Islands
Webcast: www.nasa.gov

June 22/23

Launch Vehicle: Electron
Payloads: 2 Spire & 1 GeoOptics satellites
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Mahia Peninsula, New Zealand

First commercial flight of Electron.

June 28

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Dragon ISS resupply (CRS-15)
Launch Time: 6:03 a.m. EDT (1003 GMT)
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com and www.nasa.gov

June TBD

Launch Vehicle: Long March 2C
Payload: PRSS 1 remote sensing satellite
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Taiyuan, China

Launch Vehicle: Long March 3A
Payload: Fengyun 2H geostationary weather satellite
Launch Time: TBD
Launch Site: Xichang, China

Launch Vehicle: Falcon 9
Payload: Telstar 19V communications satellite
Launch Window: TBD
Launch Site: Cape Canaveral, Florida
Webcast: www.spacex.com











First Quarter 2018 Launch Report: China & USA Battle for Lead

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy begins its first flight. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The world’s launch providers have been extremely busy in the first quarter of 2018, with 31 orbital launches thus far. This is more than one third of the 90 launches conducted last year.

China leads the pack with 10 successful launches. The United States is close behind with a total of nine launches with one failure. The tenth American launch is scheduled for Monday afternoon from Florida.

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