Spaceflight Insider

Long March 2D to launch Zhangheng-1 and six small satellites to orbit

Long_March_2D_launching_off_pad_with_VRSS-1 Photo Credit: Cristóbal Alvarado Minic

Photo Credit: Cristóbal Alvarado Minic

A Long March 2D rocket is poised to send the Zhangheng-1 Earth-observing spacecraft to orbit on Friday, February 2, along with six other small satellites.

When launched, the booster will take to the skies from Launch Area 4 (LA-4) at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in China’s Gansu Province. Liftoff is currently planned to take place around 7:50 GMT (2:50 a.m. EST).

The mission was initially scheduled to get under way on Aug. 16, 2017 but was postponed by almost six months. However, Chinese media has not disclosed what was behind this move.

Beijing has not revealed any details about the flight either. Given that the Long March 2D was the vehicle tasked with delivering its payload into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), it is estimated that the rocket will most likely be in flight for about 10 minutes.

The rocket’s main passenger is the Zhangheng-1 experimental seismo-electromagnetic satellite, also known as the China Seismo-Electromagnetic Satellite (CSES). The mission is a joint Chinese-Italian project dedicated to the observation of ionospheric precursors of earthquakes.

Artist's rendering of the Zhangheng-1 satellite.

Artist’s rendering of the Zhangheng-1 satellite. Image Credit: cses.roma2.infn.it

Zhangheng-1 was built by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) and is based on the company’s CAST2000 platform. The spacecraft weighs about 1,610 lbs. (730 kilograms) and is fitted with a lone deployable solar array.

Upon reaching its intended destination, the satellite will reside in an SSO at an altitude of about 310 miles (500 kilometers), inclined 98 degrees, and will be operated jointly by the China National Space Administration (CNSA) and Italian Space Agency (ASI) for a period of up to five years.

If everything goes as planned, Zhangheng-1 will measure high-energy particles, plasma, electric and magnetic fields with a set of scientific instruments, including a High Energy Particle Detector (HEPD) and a Search-Coil Magnetometer (SCM). The data collected by the satellite will allow scientists to monitor electromagnetic and atmospheric phenomena, and study correlations with the occurrence of seismic events. It is also hoped that they will provide insights into solar-terrestrial interactions, including phenomena like solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs).

Other Chinese satellites that will piggyback on Friday’s flight include FengMaNiu-1 and Shaonian Xing.

FengMaNiu-1 (or FMN-1) is a technology demonstrator developed by Link Space Aerospace Technology Inc., which will be used by the company to test new optical components in space. It will also be used as a repeater for amateurs worldwide via the onboard transponder system. The satellite is a three-unit CubeSat weighing around 6.6 lbs. (3 kilograms).

Shaonian Xing (“Youth Star” in Chinese) is a three-unit CubeSat with a mass of about 4.4 lbs. (2 kilograms), it was developed by teenagers as part of the Sat-China outreach project. The small satellite will be employed to engage youth in thinking about space, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) education, and satellite development.

Also on the mission manifest are the GomX-4A and GomX-4B six-unit CubeSats built by the Danish GomSpace company – a designer and manufacturer of nanosatellites.

GomX-4A is slated to be operated by the Danish Ministry of Defence and is a technology demonstrator, which has the main goal of identifying best-practice and future efforts reinforcing Denmark’s surveillance of the Arctic.

GomX-4B, operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), will test inter-satellite links and propulsive orbit control techniques for future constellation operations with GomX-4A. The CubeSat also carries the Cubesat Highly Integrated Memory Radiation Assurance experiment, known as Chimera, which is designed to test how ‘commercial-off-the-shelf’ (COTS) parts cope with bombardments of high-energy electrically charged atomic particles from the Sun and deep space.

Friday’s mission is also scheduled to lift two small Earth-observing satellites, designated ÑuSat 4 and ÑuSat 5 to orbit. These were built and will be operated by the Argentinian company Satellogic. Both spacecraft are identical and weigh approximately 81.5 lbs. (37 kilograms).

The duo should replenish Satellogic’s Aleph-1 constellation aimed to deliver commercial Earth-observing services. When completed, the project is planned to consist of 25 spacecraft orbiting in SSO at an altitude of about 300 miles (480 kilometers).

The Long March 2D launcher that has been selected for Friday’s flight is a two-stage rocket developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. It is mainly used to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). The 135 foot (41.15 meters) tall booster can launch payloads of up to 3.5 metric tons to LEO and has an SSO capability of up to 1.3 metric tons.

The rocket was launched for the first time on Aug. 9, 1992, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, orbiting the Fanhui Shei Weixing FSW-2-1 recoverable satellite.

 

 

 

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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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