China opens 2018 with Long March 2D flight of two SuperView-1 satellites
China’s Long March 2D booster launched into space on Tuesday, January 9, at 11:24 a.m. Beijing time (10:24 p.m. EST and 03:24 GMT on Jan. 8) sending a duo of SuperView-1 satellites into orbit.
The mission, which opens Beijing’s busy 2018 launch manifest, lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center (TSLC) located in China’s Shanxi Province.
Following a usual pattern for Chinese launches, in particular for those employing the Long March 2D booster, Beijing remained tight-lipped about the details of the mission, its timeline and pre-launch activities. The preparations for the launch commenced in November as the liftoff was originally scheduled for December 25.
After liftoff, the rocket began a short vertical climb before turning south across mainland China, toward the South China Sea. During the initial phase of the flight, the rocket was powered by the main stage’s YF-21C engine delivering some 2,962 kilonewtons of thrust. This stage was detached about three minutes after liftoff.
Afterward, the second stage’s YF-24C cluster engine was ignited, marking the start of a seven-minute ride to orbit. This phase most likely concluded approximately 10 minutes after liftoff when the satellites were deployed into space. Mission success was declared by the state-run Xinhua press agency, when both SuperView-1 spacecraft were inserted into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of about 310 miles (500 kilometers).
SuperView-1 03 and SuperView-1 04 (also known as GaoJing-1 03 and GaoJing-1 04), are the final two of four satellites of the first generation of the SuperView constellation. They are identical spacecraft, built by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). The satellites are based on the CAST3000B platform and are fitted with two deployable solar arrays.
If everything goes as it is currently planned, the pair of newest SuperView-1 spacecraft will be operated by the Beijing Space View Technology Co., Ltd. They will provide imagery with 1.64-foot (0.5-meter) panchromatic resolution and 6.56-foot (2-meter) multispectral (blue, green, red, near-infrared) resolution.
The first pair of SuperView-1 satellites were launched on December 28, 2016, however some problems occurred during the separation of the duo from a Long March 2D booster, that resulted in the spacecraft being placed into a lower-than-intended orbit. The issue was finally corrected in mid-January of 2017.
“The two satellites are working at the normal orbit now. The ground stations have successfully received 1,241 scenes of imagery by January 11, 2017,” Beijing Space View Technology reported in January 2017.
The plan for the SuperView-1 quartet is to have the four satellites phased 90 degrees from each other on the same orbit to collect imagery for clients worldwide. The satellites are designed to work in multiple collection modes including long strip, multiple strips collect, multiple-point targets collect, and stereo imaging. They are expected to deliver highly-detailed imagery for precise map creation, change detection, and in-depth image analysis.
The SuperView-1 spacecraft feature a data collection capability of two terabytes of storage on board and, if in the proper orbit, are able to obtain images covering 270,300 square miles (700,000 square kilometers) across the globe per day.
“The satellites will provide services in a number of fields from environmental monitoring to disaster mitigation,” said Xu Wen, general manager of China Siwei Surveying and Mapping Technology Co. Ltd, a company which controls Beijing Space View Technology.
The full SuperView constellation should consist of 24 Earth-observing satellites that is slated to be orbited by 2022. China hopes that the network will become one of the world’s largest commercial providers of space imagery and geospatial data.
The Long March 2D launcher that has been selected for Tuesday’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.
Tuesday’s launch was the 261st flight of the Long March rocket series. The next Chinese mission is currently scheduled to take place on January 11, when a Long March 3C will take to skies with two BeiDou-3 navigation satellites.
Overall, China plans to conduct about 35-40 launches in 2018, including the Chang’e 4 lander – the first spacecraft to attempt a soft landing on the far side of the Moon. The country is also working toward the debut of its new light-lift launcher, Kuaizhou-11, and plans to perform the first orbital launch from a sea platform as well.
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