Spaceflight Insider

China successfully debuts its Long March 11 rocket

People's Republic of China flag image posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Image Credit: PRoC

China has successfully conducted the debut launch of its Long March 11 rocket. The new booster lofted four micro-satellites into space. The lift-off took place at 9:41 p.m. EDT Thursday, Sept. 24 (1:41 a.m. UTC Friday, Sept. 25) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu. The rocket delivered a trio of Tianwang satellites and the Pujiang 1 spacecraft into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of about 299 miles (481 km), inclined 97.3 degrees.

The Tianwang CubeSats (1A, 1B and 1C) were developed by the Shanghai Engineering Center for Microsatellites (SECM). The satellites will participate in a series of networking experiments involving a small constellation of low-cost satellites.

The main goal of the mission is to experiment with Software Defined Radio (SDR) in space. The amateur radio payloads will be used for exchanging Telemetry, Tracking and Command (TT&C) information with the amateur radio ground control station. Information about the telemetry will be made publicly available so that radio amateurs around the world may track and monitor the health of the satellites.

The Pujiang 1 micro-satellite, built by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), is designed to be a technology demonstrator. It is meant to demonstrate miniaturized satellite components like heat transfer pumps and microprocessors. The titanium structure of its antenna was made by 3D printing in three days. It also features a Wi-Fi router providing a communication network between satellites.

The Long March 11 is a small, solid-fueled quick-reaction launch vehicle developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). It uses the most powerful solid-rocket motor that China currently manufactures. It will mainly be used for launching micro-satellites.

The 68 ft. (20.8 m) tall Long March 11 measures some 6.6 ft. (2 m) in diameter and is capable of sending up to 1,500 lbs. to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and 770 lbs. to SSO. The rocket uses three solid-fueled stages with an auxiliary liquid-fueled upper module for precise insertion capability. The vehicle is launched from a launch tube mounted on a road mobile vehicle.

Thursday’s successful launch of the Long March 11 booster marked a major breakthrough for China in terms of developing key technology for solid propellant rockets. Long March 11 is the next in a line of launch vehicles being inaugurated by the country as part of the beginning of a major transition in rocket technology. The nation is switching from a toxic propellant combination to what they have described as environmentally-friendly propellants for medium and heavy-lift rockets and solid propellant for light-lift vehicles.

Very little is known about the new Long March 11 booster, as few photos of it have been released by the Chinese media. The manufacturing process of the Long March 11 has been kept under wraps – with no detailed technical information having been released after its development was announced in 2013.

The debut of Long March 11 comes just a few days after the maiden flight of China’s other new booster, the Long March 6 on Sept. 19. During that flight the new rocket orbited a swarm of some 20 small satellites. Thursday’s flight was the 211th mission for the Long March rocket family and China’s eight launch of the year.

The next Chinese launch is planned for Sept. 29, when a Long March 3B rocket will deliver the BDS I2-S spacecraft to orbit for the country’s homegrown BeiDou Navigation Satellite System.


Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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