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China readying Kaituozhe-2A rocket for launch with experimental payload

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Image Credit: People’s Republic of China

There are indications that the China National Space Administration (CNSA) is preparing to launch its Kaituozhe-2A (KT-2A) rocket on a mission to deliver an experimental satellite into orbit. The rocket may lift off as soon as March 3, 2017.

Scale model of the Chinese Kaituozhe-2A (KT-2A) launch vehicle. Photo credit: Gunter’s Space Page

The rocket

Not much is known about the 114-foot (35-meter) tall launch vehicle. The vehicle is reportedly capable of lofting 4,409 pounds (2,000 kilograms) to a 310-mile (500-kilometer) orbit.

Based on China’s Dong Feng 31 (DF-31) intercontinental ballistic missile, the KT-2A sports a central core consisting of three stages along with two strap-on boosters. All stages, as well as the boosters, are solid fueled.

The launch, when it occurs, will be the first for this variant of the KT-2 family.

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center

The intermediate-class rocket is set to launch on its maiden flight from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, located in far northwestern China, near Mongolia. This was the site of China’s first successful domestic satellite launch, DFH-1, in 1970.

The launch center is well positioned for high-inclination launches, such as those bound for Sun-synchronous orbits. Pad 603 at the facility will likely play host for this mission, which may be the launch of an experimental satellite called Tiankong-1.

Jiuquan was China’s first spaceport. More Chinese launches have occurred here than anywhere else in the country. Additionally, all of China’s crewed missions took off from this location as well as its two space stations, Tiangong 1 and 2.

Pad 603 is one of two at Launch Area 4, also known as the South Launch Site. The other is called Pad 921. They became operational in 2003 and 1999, respectively.

Pad 921 has been used to launch the country’s crewed Shenzhou spacecraft and space station modules, whereas Pad 603 has been used for most of the uncrewed launches from Jiuquan.

While rockets bound for Pad 921 are built in a vehicle assembly building and rolled out, rockets using Pad 603 are assembled vertically on the pad with a crane.

If KT-2A flies on March 3, it will be China’s third mission of the year. A Long March 3B and Kuaizhou 1A were launched on Jan. 5 and Jan. 9, 2017, respectively.

Another Chinese rocket is expected to fly by the end of March. It will be a Long March 2D and carry two communications satellites for CNSA.



Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.

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