Spaceflight Insider

China sends an experimental satellite into space on a secretive launch

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket, carrying the first Communications Engineering Test Satellite (TXJSSY-1), awaits the launch on Sept. 12, 2015.

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket, carrying the first Communications Engineering Test Satellite (TXJSSY-1), awaits launch on Sept. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: News.cn

China successfully conducted a secretive launch on Saturday, Sept. 12, sending an experimental satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). A Chinese Long March 3B rocket, carrying the first Communications Engineering Test Satellite (TXJSSY-1), lifted off from the Launch Area 2 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 11:42 a.m. EDT (15:42 GMT).

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket, carrying the first Communications Engineering Test Satellite (TXJSSY-1), lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 12, 2015.

A Chinese Long March 3B rocket, carrying the first Communications Engineering Test Satellite (TXJSSY-1), lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Sept. 12, 2015. Photo Credit: News.cn

The real identity of the payload is shrouded in mystery as very little information was released regarding the satellite and the purpose of this mission. Western analysts believe that the spacecraft is a military satellite dedicated to a missile early warning system.

However, the state-controlled Xinhua news agency insisted that TXJSSY-1 will be used for civilian purposes like performing tests on the Ka frequency band in broadband communications.

Japanese media reported recently that China is working to establish a missile early-warning capability to be coupled with a ground-based radar system for advance warnings and defense capabilities. The reports were based on Chinese military documents that referred to the development of an experimental early-warning satellite program.

The Long March 3B rocket used on Saturday’s launch is China’s most powerful launch vehicle. The 180 ft. (58.8 m) rocket is capable of delivering 12 metric tons of payload to a low-Earth orbit (LEO) and up to 5.1 metric tons to a GTO.

The rocket is mainly used by China to place communications satellites into geosynchronous orbits.

The Long March 3B booster, derived from the Long March 3A version of the booster, features enlarged launch propellant tanks, improved computer systems, a larger payload fairing and the addition of four strap-on boosters in the core stage that provide additional help during the first phase of the launch.

The launch vehicle also uses a cryogenic upper stage that provides re-ignition capabilities.

The rocket can also use the new Yuanzheng-1 (Expedition-1) upper stage that uses a small-thrust engine and performs direct missions to GTO.

The rocket’s first launch took place in 1996 and ended in failure when it exploded shortly after the lift-off. It was tasked to deliver Intelsat 708 telecommunications satellite for that mission.

In December 2013, the rocket successfully launched China’s first lunar lander, Chang’e-3, and the lunar rover Yutu or Jade Rabbit.

The next launch of the Long March 3B rocket is scheduled to take place in October this year. The mission will send a Chinese APStar-9 communications satellite to orbit.

Saturday’s lift-off was China’s fifth launch this year and their 208th overall.

The Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, where the launch took place, is situated in the Sichuan Province, south-western China. It is the country’s launch site for geosynchronous orbital launches.

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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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