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Space Exploration

Chinese Completed Space Station, Set New Launch Record in 2022

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
January 26, 2023
Filed under , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Chinese Completed Space Station, Set New Launch Record in 2022
Shenzhou 14 crew of Cai Xuzhe, Chen Dong and Liu Yang. (Credit: China News Service)

China had a highly successful 2022 in space as it completed initial construction of its Tiangong space station, launched two crews to occupy it, and set a new national record with 64 launch attempts.

Human Spaceflight

Shenzhou-13 taikonauts Zhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping and Ye Guangfu returned to Earth on April 16. They were the second crew to occupy the Tiangong space station, and the first to spend six months aboard. The taikonauts set a new record for Chinese human spaceflight.

The Shenzhou-14 crew of Chen Dong, Liu Yang and Cai Xuzhe were launched to the space station on June 5. Their six-month mission would be the most important yet as they would be on board for the arrival and commissioning of two science modules.

Chinese Wentian space station module (Credit: Leebrandoncremer, CC BY-SA 4.0)

The 23-metric ton (25.4 ton) Wentian module was launched on July 24, docking with the station early the next day after a 13-hour flight.

The 17.9 meter (58.7 ft) long module includes laboratory equipment for life sciences, biotechnology and variable gravity experiments. The module also has 22 external mounting devices for the attachment of unpressurized experiments. Wentian features a robotic arm that is half the size as the one mounted on the outside of the Tianhe core module.

Wentian includes three sleeping berths, a kitchen and a toilet to accommodate the expansion of the station’s full-time complement from three to six taikonauts. The module will provide additional propulsion, control and avionics to back up the Tianhe core module. Wentian is powered by two solar panels.

Chinese Mengtian space station module (Credit: Leebrandoncremer, CC BY-SA 4.0)

A Long March 5B launched the Mengtian module on Oct. 31.Mengtian is the same size and basic configuration as the Wentian module. It provided more space for experiments and storage.

Both modules were launched by Long March 5B rockets that have a unique feature: the massive core stage enters orbit with no way to deorbit it in a controlled way over some remote part of the ocean. Thus, the core stage keeps circling the Earth over most of the planet’s population, getting ever lower as analysts try to figure out where it’s going to rain down debris after it hits the atmosphere.

Thus far, the world has dodged a bullet. There have been no reports of injuries or property damage. NASA has condemned this practice, but to no avail.

Tiangong Launches and Return Flights
2 Crew
2 Resupply
2 Station Modules

DateLaunch VehicleLaunch SiteSpacecraftPurposeCrew
April 16, 2022Shenzhou-13Crew returnZhai Zhigang, Wang Yaping, Ye Guangfu (launched Oct. 15, 2021)
May 9, 2022Long March 7WenchangTianzhou 4ResupplyNone
June 5, 2022Long March 2FJiuquanShenzhou-14Crew launchChen Dong, Liu Yang, Cai Xuzhe
July 24, 2022Long March 5BWenchangWentianStation moduleNone
Oct. 31, 2022Long March 5BWenchangMengtianStation moduleNone
Nov. 9, 2022Tianzhou-4Resupply ship departureNone
Nov. 12, 2022Long March 7WenchangTianzhou-5ResupplyNone
Nov. 29, 2022Long March 2FJiuquanShenzhou-15Crew launchFei Junlong, Deng Qingming, Zhang Lu

The Shenzhou 14 crew conducted numerous experiments and three space walks totaling nearly 16 hours during their six-month mission.

The Shenzhou-15 crew of Fei Junlong, Deng Qingming and Zhang Lu were launched on Nov. 29 for the first on-orbit handover of the space station. Tiangong had been left empty when the first two crews departed.

The crew of Shenzhou-14 returned to Earth on Dec. 4 after 182 days in space.

Launch of a Long March 6 rocket. (Credit: CASC)

Launch Statistics

China set a new record last year by launching 64 times, with 62 successes and two failures. The total exceeded that of the previous year when the nation conducted 53 successful launches and suffered three failures.

The government-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) launched 53 times without failure. That placed CASC in second place behind SpaceX, which launched 61 times last year.

Chinese Launches

Launch VehicleCompanySuccessesFailuresTotal
Long March 2CASC*24024
Long March 4CASC11011
Long March 3B/ECASC404
Long March 11, 11HCASC404
Long March 7, 7ACASC303
Long March 5BCASC202
Long March 6CASC202
Long March 6ACASC202
Ceres-1Galactic Energy202
Kuaizhou 11ExPace101
Long March 8CASC101
Jielong-3China Rocket101
ZK-1ACAS Space101
Zhuque-2 (ZQ-2)LandSpace011
* China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation

CASC’s Long March 6A made its maiden flight in March. Long March 6A has two YF-100 engines on its first stage instead of one on the Long March 6. It also has four solid rocket boosters where Long March 6 has none. Long March 6A can place 4,500 kg (9,921 lb) into a 700 km (435 mile) high sun synchronous orbit. Long March 6 can launch 1,080 kg (2,381 lb) into the same orbit.

Six other companies — some private, others subsidiaries of state-owned companies — conducted nine successful launches and experienced two failures. Many of the companies used solid-fuel boosters believed to be adapted from intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Chinese Commercial Launches

CompanyTypeLaunch VehicleLaunchesResult
ExPacePublicKuaizhou 1A4Success
Kuaizhou 11+1Success
Galactic EnergyPrivateCeres-12Success
CAS SpacePublic/privateZhongke-1A (ZK-1A)*1Success
China RocketPublicJielong 3 (Smart Dragon 3)*1Success
+ First successful launch
* Maiden launch

ExPace launched four Kuaizhou 1A rockets and one Kuaizhou 11 booster last year. The company is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the government-owned China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC).

Kuaizhou 1A has a record of 16 successes and two failures. Kuaizhou 11 has a record of 1-1, having failed on its maiden flight in 2020.

Launch Vehicle Capabilities

Launch VehicleCompanyLEOSSO
(500 km/311 miles)
(700 km/435 miles)
Hyperbola-1i-space300 kg (661 lb)
Kuaizhou 1AExPace300 kg (661 lb)250 kg (551 lb)200 kg (441 lb)
Ceres-1Galactic Energy 400 kg (882 lb)300 kg (661 lb)
Kuaizhou 11ExPace1,500 kg (3,307 lb)1,000 kg (2,205 lb)
Jielong 3 (Smart Dragon 3)China Rocket1,500 kg (3,307 lb)
Zhongke-1A (ZK-1A) CAS Space2,000 kg (4,409 lb) 1,500 kg ( 3,307 lb)
Zhuque-2 (ZQ-2)LandSpace4,000 kg (8,818 lb)2,000 kg (4,409 lb)

Privately-held Galactic Energy launched its Ceres-1 booster two times last year. The rocket has a record of 5-0.

CAS Space’s Zhongke-1A (ZK-1A) rocket succeeded on its maiden flight from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. CAS Space is a partly owned by the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

China Rocket succeeded in launching its four-stage, solid-fuel Jielong 3 (Smart Dragon 3) rocket on its maiden flight. The booster placed 14 satellites into orbit on a rideshare mission. China Rocket is a subsidiary of the government-owned China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which itself is a subsidiary of CASC.

Maiden Flights of Chinese Rockets

LauncherCompanyFirst LaunchResult
Long March 6ACASCMarch 29, 2022Success
Zhongke-1A (ZK-1A)CAS SpaceJuly 27, 2022Success
Jielong-3 (Smart Dragon 3)China RocketDec. 9, 2022Success
Zhuque-2LandSpaceDec. 14, 2022Failure

LandSpace did not have the same success with the maiden flight of its liquid-fuel Zhuque-2 (ZQ-2) launch vehicle. The booster’s second stage vernier engine failed after launch from the Jiuquan spaceport. It was the first launch attempt of a rocket fueled by liquid methane.

i-space Hyperbola-1 rocket failed in May. It was the booster’s third failure in four launches since its maiden flight in July 2019.

Satellites Launched

China launched 182 satellites last year. The top satellites by function were Earth observation, reconnaissance, technology demonstration, communications, navigation and space station support.

Top Chinese Satellite Launches by Function

Earth observation83
Technology demonstration18
Navigation & communications9
Space station support6
Source: Wikipedia

Chang Guang Satellite Technology had 54 satellites launched, including 51 Earth observation spacecraft. The Chinese Academy of Sciences was second with 36 satellites, including 25 reconnaissance spacecraft.

Chinese Launches by Location

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center was the most used Chinese spaceport last year with 25 launches. That put the spaceport behind Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida where 38 launches were conducted. (Florida hosted 57 orbital launches when the adjoining Kennedy Space Center is included.)

CASC launched 17 times from Jiuquan. CAS Space, ExPace, Galactic Energy, i-space and LandSpace conducted eight launches from the spaceport.

Chinese Launches by Location

Launch SiteSuccessesFailuresTotal
East China Sea101
Yellow Sea202

The increase in the number of Chinese launches has made the nation’s four spaceports much busier. To relieve some of that pressure, three launches were conducted from platforms in the East China and Yellow seas.