Launch 2020: China’s Space Program Continued to Surge with a Number of Firsts

Long March 3B lifts off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. (Credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Group)

China’s surging space program showed no sign of slowing down last year as it tied its own launch record and moved ahead with ambitious space missions and a set of new launchers.

China compiled a record of 35 successes and four failures in 2020. That matched the number of launch attempts made in 2018, a year that saw 38 successes and a single failure.

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Launch 2020: A Busy Year Filled with Firsts in the Face of COVID-19 Pandemic

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft is launched from Launch Complex 39A on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station with NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard, Saturday, May 30, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida (Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls & Joel Kowsky)

SpaceX dominated, China surged and Russia had another clean sheet as American astronauts flew from U.S. soil again in a year of firsts.

First in a series

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was a very busy launch year with a number of firsts in both human and robotic exploration. A total of 114 orbital launches were attempted, with 104 successes and 10 failures. It was the same number of launches that were conducted in 2018, with that year seeing 111 successes, two failures and one partial failure.

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China Launches Oceanography Satellite

Long March 4B launches the Haiyang 2D oceanography satellite.

JIUQUAN SATELLITE LAUNCH CENTER, China (CNSA PR) — At 12:03 on May 19, China used the Long March 4B carrier rocket at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center to successfully launch the Haiyang 2D satellite. The satellite successfully entered the scheduled orbit, and the mission was a complete success. 

Haiyang 2D is the third operational satellite of the National Space Infrastructure Ocean Power Satellite series. It will form my country’s Ocean Power Environment Satellite Constellation with Haiyang 2B and Haiyang 2C, and is mainly used to observe sea surface wind fields. Information such as sea surface height, effective wave height, gravity field and ocean circulation will provide strong support for sea condition forecasting, storm warning, precipitation forecasting, surface analysis and global climate change research.

The National Space Administration is responsible for the organization and implementation of the Haiyang 2D satellite project; the China Academy of Space Technology and Shanghai Aerospace Technology Research Institute under China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation are responsible for the development of satellite systems and launch vehicle systems; the China Satellite Launch, Measurement and Control System Department is responsible for The launch site and measurement and control system are organized and implemented; the Ministry of Natural Resources is the user department, and the National Satellite Ocean Application Center is responsible for the construction of ground systems and application systems.

This mission is the 370th launch of the Long March series of carrier rockets.

China Launches Test Satellite

A Chinese Long March 4B rocket launched the Shiyan-6 03 experimental satellite from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Friday, April 9.

Shiyan-6 was developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Microsatellite Innovation. The spacecraft was described in official press reports as being used for space environment detection and related technology experiments.

It was the 365th launch of the Long March series of carrier rockets.

China, Russia Launch Communications & Environmental Satellites

China and Russia conducted launches on Sunday and Monday, placing five primary payloads and a group of rideshare satellites into orbit.

A Chinese Long March 4B booster lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center early Sunday morning. The three-stage rocket carried the Huanjing 2A and 2B environmental monitoring satellites into orbit.

Chinese media said the satellites will collect data for environmental protection, water conservancy, natural resources monitoring, agriculture and forestry. They will replace the Huanjing 1A and 1B environmental satellites launched in 2008.

On Monday, a Russian Soyuz rocket launched three Gonets M military communications satellites from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome. The rocket also included a group of international rideshare payloads.

China Launches Remote Sensing Satellite

TAIYUAN SATELLITE LAUNCH CENTER, China (CNSA PR) — At 13:57 on September 7, the Long March 4B carrier rocket ignited and lifted off at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, successfully sending the Gaofen 11 02 satellite into the scheduled orbit, and the launch was a complete success.

Gaofen 11 02 is an optical remote sensing satellite with a ground pixel resolution of up to sub-meter level. It is mainly used for land surveys, urban planning, land right confirmation, road network design, crop yield estimation, disaster prevention and mitigation, etc.

At the same time, it can also provide information guarantee for the implementation of major national strategies such as the “Belt and Road” initiative and the modernization of national defense.

This mission is the 345th launch of the Long March series of carrier rockets.

HKATG Carries Out In-orbit Technology Validation of Golden Bauhinia Satellite Constellation

HONG KONG (HKATG PR) — On July 25, 2020, China’s Long March-4B carrier rocket was successfully launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, and the space exploration satellite named “Lobster Eye X-ray Explorer” was successfully put into orbit. The “Lobster Eye X-ray Explorer” is the first space exploration satellite in the world to apply X-ray technology focusing with lobster-eye optics.

In its design and development process, all participators including the Hong Kong Aerospace Technology Group, Ltd. (HKATG) co-innovated in the basic research, engineering technology and applications to carry out the full-chain, systematic research and development work, which have made great contributions to strengthening China’s independent innovation capabilities in space astronomy, deep space exploration, and space remote sensing, etc.

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China Launches Reconnaissance Satellite

Long March 2D lifts off from Jiuquan on July 5, 2020. (Credit: CASC)

China launched the classified Shiyan-6 (02) reconnaissance satellite on Sunday, marking the country’s second successful launch in two days.

A Long March 2D rocket lofted the spacecraft into orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation said the satellite will be “mainly used to carry out space environment detection and related technical tests.” Western experts believe the description is used for reconnaissance satellites.

The launch was 338th of the Long March series of launch vehicles.

The successful flight came on the heels of another Chinese launch on Friday. A Long March 4B rocket launched the latest Gaofen civilian Earth imaging satellite from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Northern China.

Long March 4B Successfully Launches 3 Satellites

Long March 4B booster lifts off from Taiyuan with three satellites aboard on Sept. 12, 2019. (Credit: CGWIC)

BEIJING (CGWIC PR) — At 11:26, September 12th, 2019 BJT, the 5-meter Optical Satellite was successfully launched by Long March 4B (LM-4B) launch vehicle from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center (TSLC), with two small satellites aboard, ICE-PATHFINDER (also known as BNU-1) of Beijing Normal University and Taurus-1 of Shanghai ASES Spaceflight Technology Co. Ltd.

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Orbital Launch Statistics for 2016

The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Ryzhikov, Kimbrough, and Borisenko will spend the next four months living and working aboard the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The Soyuz MS-02 rocket is launched with Expedition 49 Soyuz commander Sergey Ryzhikov of Roscosmos, flight engineer Shane Kimbrough of NASA, and flight engineer Andrey Borisenko of Roscosmos, Wednesday, Oct. 19, 2016 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

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There were 85 orbital launches in 2016, not including the Falcon 9 that exploded on launch pad prior to a pre-flight engine test. The launches break down as follow:

  • United States: 22 (22-0)
  • China: 22 (20-1-1)
  • Russia: 19 (18-1)
  • Europe: 9 (9-0)
  • India: 7 (7-0)
  • Japan: 4 (4-0)
  • Israel: 1 (1-0)
  • North Korea: 1 (1-0)

For a more detailed description of these launches, please read US, China Led World in Launches in 2016.

Let’s look at launches by booster and spaceport and the flights that were required for human spaceflight.
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