China Rocket successfully performed its first deployment of small satellites to low orbit Earth, as part of China’s rapidly developing space exploration efforts.
To date, it is China’s fourth launch and second successful small satellite deployment in less than 10 months.
China Rocket Co. Ltd. is a private entity behind the successful launch of Smart Dragon-1 rocket, which is also known by its Chinese name Jielong-1.
Smart Dragon-1 is a 19.5-meters-tall, 1.2-meter-diameter, 23.1-metric-ton spacecraft that lifted off from the mobile launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China today at 2:11 p.m. (Beijing Time).
Meanwhile, China Rocket — the company that manages the space vehicle — took less than 18 months to develop Smart Dragon-1, which is the shortest period to develop a new type of carrier rocket in the country.
According to Gong Min, the technical manager of the project, they have incorporated intelligent technologies to analyze the data of the rocket, which should help improve its efficiency and accuracy.
China Rocket is also affiliated to and is the commercial arm of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), which is behind a number of traditional Chinese Long March vehicles.
CALT, in particular, was established in 2016 with the aim of developing low-cost launchers that use social capital instead of the state capital to fund rocket research and development.
Additionally, launch operations are managed by China Long March Rocket Corporation, a spin-off company of CALT. The project formally started in February 2018—less than 18 months before today’s first flight—which also oversaw the other three launches within the past few months.
The function of the agency is to help develop rockets that would meet the market demand for launching small commercial satellites that can remain in storage for long periods and provide launch missions on short notice.
The Smart Dragon-1 (Jielong-1) is a small solid-fueled quick-reaction launch vehicle that can lift a 200-kilogram payload to a 500-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit.
“It has the highest carrying efficiency among China’s current commercial solid-propellant rockets,” said Gong.
In particular to their most recent launch, it carried three satellites that were developed by three Beijing-based companies, which will be used for remote sensing services, communication, and Internet of Things.
One of the deployed satellites was a 65-kilogram Qiansheng-1 (01) remote sensing, communication and navigation satellite that had two smaller payloads into 529- by 560-kilometer sun-synchronous orbits, according to the data published by the U.S. Air Force.
Qiansheng-1 (01) was developed by Beijing Qiansheng Exploration Technology Co. Ltd., a private satellite manufacturer established in 2017, and is the first step in plans for creating its constellation of 24 satellites providing remote sensing and communications services.
The satellite carried an 11-kilogram CMOS optical imager with a spatial resolution of better than 2 meters developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST).
While the two smaller payloads were from Tianqi-2 (Apocalypse-2), an Internet of Things (IoT) connectivity technology verification satellite from Beijing Guodian Gaoke Technology Co. Ltd., which aims to establish a 38-satellite constellation, and Xingshidai-5 (Star Age-5), jointly developed by Beijing Weina Star Technology Co., Ltd., and Chengdu Guoxing Aerospace Technology Co. Ltd., two private small satellite sector firms respectively also known as MinoSpace and ADA-Space.
Tang Yagang, president of China Rocket, told state media that the company is aiming to launch another Smart Dragon-1 from Jiuquan before the end of the year, and is planning to complete 5 successful launches by the end of 2020.
“Commercial launching will have a vast market in the fields such as low-Earth orbit Internet mobile communication and remote sensing,” Tang said.
According to CALT, Smart Dragon-1 can be produced from order to launch within six months upon the request and will only require a 24-hour checkout at the launch site. The whole launch vehicle is launched from a Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) truck that transports the launch vehicle to the launch site.
Comparatively, China Rocket’s services are at par with American commercial satellite deployment company, Rocket Lab. Specifically with its payload capacity and price range at $30,000 per kilogram.
In the future, China Rocket is also looking to follow the reusable rockets trend by SpaceX as they successfully tested the technology that can accurately control the falling of rocket remains during its July 26 launch.
“We are exploring different technical methods that include retrieval of rockets by vertical take-off and landing, and horizontal take-off and landing. Now we have expedited the development of the technology to reuse rockets. Hopefully, in the coming two to three years, China’s rockets will adopt the technology,” Tang said.