Spaceflight Insider

Chinese Long March 3B rocket puts ChinaSat-2C communications satellite into orbit

Long March 3B; ChinaSat-2C

A Long March 3B carrier rocket carrying the ChinaSat-2C satellite blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Nov. 3, 2015. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Zhao

China launched a new communications satellite designated ChinaSat-2C, or Zhongxing-2C, on Tuesday, Nov. 3. Liftoff of the Long March 3B rocket and its precious cargo took place at 12:25 p.m. EDT (16:25 GMT). The launch was conducted from the Launch Complex 3 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center located in southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

As was the case with numerous prior Chinese launches, the liftoff was not announced earlier by the media or government officials. The launch was slated for November, but the exact date wasn’t revealed.

A Long March 3B carrier rocket carrying the ChinaSat-2C satellite blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Nov. 3, 2015.

A Long March 3B carrier rocket carrying the ChinaSat-2C satellite blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on Nov. 3, 2015. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Zhao Yingquan

The flight lasted for about 26 minutes until the spacecraft successfully separated from the launch vehicle and was delivered into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).

The state-run Xinhua news agency describes the ChinaSat-2C spacecraft as a civil communications satellite that will provide radio, TV transmission, and broadband services for the country’s radio stations, TV stations, radio transmitting stations, and cable networks. According to Xinhua, the satellite is owned by China Satellite Communications Co., Ltd.

However, Western analysts and media outlets believe that the spacecraft will serve military purposes and will be operated by the Chinese armed forces. ChinaSat-2C may be one of the second generation Shentong geostationary military communication satellites. The lack of detailed information about the satellite could be explained by its military nature. So far, very little is known about the spacecraft itself as no technical details are available.

The available information indicates that ChinaSat-2C is based on the DFH-4 satellite platform and was built by the China Academy of Space Technology. The DFH-4 bus is a new generation platform, it keeps high-capability in output power and communication capacity ranking with international advanced satellite platforms. This bus can be used in high-capacity broadcast communications satellites, new generation direct broadcasting satellites, new generation tracking and data relay satellites, regional mobile communications satellites, and other spacecraft.

DFH-4 measures 7.74 by 6.89 by 11.80 ft., it can accommodate payloads of up to 1,300 lbs. (590 kg), and has a total launch mass of up to 5.2 metric tons. The platform comprises a propulsion module, service module, and two 19.7 ft. (6 meters) long solar arrays. It has an output power of 10.5 kW by the end of its 15-year lifetime.

The three-stage Long March 3B rocket used in Tuesday’s mission is currently the most powerful Chinese launch vehicle. The 180-foot (55-meter) tall booster is capable of launching up to 12 metric tons of payload into low-Earth orbit (LEO) or 5 metric tons of cargo into GTO.

The 3B/E version that was employed for the mission is an enhanced variant of the rocket, featuring an enlarged first stage and boosters. This version was introduced in 2007 to increase the rocket’s GTO cargo capacity and lift heavier geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) communications satellites.

Thanks to the flawless ChinaSat-2C liftoff, China continues its impressive streak of successful launches this year. So far, the country has conducted 13 orbital missions in 2015, all of them were successful. Only Russia and the U.S. performed more launches this year. Tuesday’s launch was also the 216th mission of the Long March carrier rocket series.

China plans three more launches by the end of 2015. The next flight is scheduled for Nov. 21 when a Long March 3B rocket will send the LaoSat-1 communications satellite into orbit. If successful, it will be the first Laotian spacecraft launched into space.


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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