Spaceflight Insider

China’s Long March 3B rocket launches APStar-9 satellite into orbit

China successfully launched the APStar-9 commercial communications satellite using its Long March 3B rocket on Friday, Oct. 15.

Chinese Long March 3B rocket launches the APStar-9 satellite on Oct. 15, 2015. Photo Credit:

China successfully launched the APStar-9 commercial communications satellite using its Long March 3B rocket on Friday, Oct. 15. Liftoff of the rocket took place as scheduled at 12:16 p.m. EDT (16:16 GMT) from Launch Area 2 (LA-2) at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center located in Sichuan province.

During the flight, which lasted lasting approximately 26 minutes, ending in spacecraft separation, the rocket fired its third stage twice.

Chinese media reported that monitoring data collected after the satellite separated from the launch vehicle indicated that it had reached its designated geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) of 142 degrees east longitude.

APStar-9 satellite.

The APStar-9 satellite. Photo Credit: APT

The construction of the APStar-9 satellite started in October 2014, followed by the integration of the communications payload and the beginning of end-to-end testing in early 2015. The spacecraft was shipped to the launch site on Aug. 27 for final processing, propellant loading, and integration with the launch vehicle.

APStar-9 is the first communication satellite based on the DFH-4 platform, provided by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which represents the breakthrough of delivering satellites to a leading international satellite operator by China space industry.

DFH-4 is the third generation communications satellite bus in China with high-power output, a strong payload capacity, and an extended service life.

The satellite will be operated by Hong Kong-based APT Satellite Company Limited. The company currently owns and operates five satellites in orbit: APStar-5, APStar-6, APStar-7, APStar-7B (partial), and APStar-9A. These satellites cover regions in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia – approximately 75 percent of the world’s population – all of which were supplied by the top American and European satellite manufacturers.

The APStar-9 is equipped with 32 C-band and 14 Ku-band transponders. C-band coverage consists of one broad beam for the Asia Pacific region, “AP Beam”, and one enhanced beam for South East Asia, “SEA Beam”, which are suitable for video broadcast, very-small-aperture terminal (VSAT) networks and cellular backhaul services. The Ku-band transponders will cover the West Pacific and East India Ocean region, providing direct-to-home (DTH), VSAT, mobility services such as maritime and in-flight connectivity.

The car-sized APStar-9 spacecraft has a mass of around five metric tons. The satellite’s DFH-4 bus can accommodate payloads of up to 1,300 lbs. (590 kg), supporting high-performance multi-band communications payloads with a total end-of-life power of 10.5kW delivered by two solar arrays.

The satellite is designed to stay in service for at least 15 years. It will replace its predecessor APStar-9A, which was launched in 1998. The $211 million contract for the APStar-9 satellite was signed in November 2013.

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

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

Friday’s launch was the 214th mission of the Long March rocket series. It was also China’s 11th launch this year. Only Russia and the U.S. launched more orbital missions in 2015.

The next Chinese launch is planned for November 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. China aims to conduct a total of 14 orbital launches this year.

Video courtesy of Chi Wong


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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