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Chinese light-lift Kuaizhou 1A launcher orbits Centispace-1 1S test satellite

Kuaizhou 1A rocket lifts off with Centispace-1 1S on September 29, 2018.

Kuaizhou 1A rocket lifts off with Centispace-1 1S on September 29, 2018. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Yang Xiaobo

China successfully launched a Kuaizhou 1A rocket on Saturday, September 29. This light-lift booster sent the small test satellite, known as Centispace-1 1S to space.

The mission got underway at 12:13 p.m. local time (4:13 GMT / 12:13 p.m. EDT) from Launch Area 4 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in China’s Gansu Province.

About six and a half hours after leaving the pad, the state-run Xinhua press agency confirmed launch success, noting that it was the second commercial launch of the Kuaizhou 1A booster.

Beijing kept the details about the mission under tight wraps. What is known is that launch was originally targeted for September 25, however it was rescheduled due to some reasons, not disclosed to public.

The satellite’s ride to space lasted some 15-20 minutes, as the goal of the mission was to deliver the payload into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of approximately 435 miles (700 kilometers).

The rocket’s first stage most likely powered the flight for about one minute and 20 seconds, while the second stage separated from the launch vehicle at around T+2:40 minutes. Next, the third stage assumed control over the flight and burned until it detached almost five minutes into the mission. The remaining part of the flight was controlled by the fourth stage, which deployed the spacecraft into space.

Weighing some 214 lbs. (97 kilograms), Centispace-1 1S is a small commercial satellite developed by the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). According to Xinhua, it is a technology experiment spacecraft for the low-orbit navigation enhancement system being developed by Beijing Future Navigation Technology Co. Ltd.

Manufactured by the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), Kuaizhou 1A (what means “speedy vessel” in Chinese) is a light-lift, quick-response launch vehicle based on ballistic missile technology. With a mass of about 30 metric tons, the rocket is 64-foot (19.4-meter) tall and 4.6 feet (1.4 meters) in diameter.

Kuaizhou 1A has three solid fueled stages with a fourth liquid fueled stage that acts as part of the satellite’s system. The booster was designed to offer laucnh services on short notice. It uses a transporter-erector-launcher vehicle that transports the rocket from the integration facility to the launch site. This helps to shorten the time needed for pre-launch activities to several hours.

Kuaizhou 1A is capable of lifting up to 660 lbs. (300 kilograms) to low-Earth orbit (LEO) and up to 440 lbs. (200 kilograms) to SSO. The maiden flight of this rocket took place on January 9, 2017, from JSLC.

The first launch vehicle in the series – Kuaizhou 1 – is similar in size and mass to the version that lifted off on Saturday. However it has a payload capacity of sending 950 lbs. (430 kilograms) to LEO. The rocket made its debut on Sept. 25, 2013.

To date, four launches of the Kuaizhou rocket family have been conducted and all of them were successful. The next use of the rocket should be carried out later this year. The exact date of this flight has not yet been announced.

Besides Kuaizhou 1 and 1A, CASIC also develops three heavier variants of this booster, namely the Kuaizhou 11, 21 and 31. The first flight of the 7.2-foot (2.2-meter) tall Kuaizhou 11 is on the 2018 launch manifest, but the date is still unknown. This version of the rocket should be able to deliver up to 1.5 metric tons to LEO and 1.0 metric tons to SSO.

The heavy-lift Kuaizhou 21 and 31, with a payload capacity to LEO of about 20 and 70 metric tons respectively, are still under development. The first launches of these boosters will likely take place NET mid-2020s.

Saturday’s Kuaizhou 1A flight marked the 26th launch for China and the ninth conducted from JSLC in 2018.




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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