Spaceflight Insider

Launch of Shijian 20 lights up Chinese skies and exploration ambitions

Launch of Long March 5 with Shijian 20 satellite Image Credit CCTV

The third Long March 5 with the Shijian 5 satellite lifts off from the Wenchang Launch Site 1. Image Credit: CCTV

China put the pin in its 2019 launch manifest by sending the Shijian-20 communications satellite into high-Earth orbit. This relatively routine flight could herald the opening of a bold new era in Chinese space exploration.

Shijian 20 is based off of the DFH-5 satellite platform. A newer design, the satellite is capable of producing an estimated 18 kilowatts of payload power. It also sports a larger truss and advanced electronics. The spacecraft is safe in a very high orbit, approximately 22,369 miles (36,000 kilometers).

The launch of the Shijian-20 marked only the third time that the Long March 5 has flown the Chinese skies. The Friday, Dec. 27 flight was announced by the Chinese News Agency after it had been determined the mission’s objective had been successfully accomplished. The Long March 5 lifted off from the Wenchang launch site located on Hainan island at 8:45 p.m. EST (1245 GMT). 

In 2019 China led the world in launches with some 34 additional launch “notches” on its belt. By comparison, the United States completed 27.

The Shijian 20 satellite. Photo Credit: CCTV

The Shijian 20 satellite. Photo Credit: CCTV

The Long March 5 was first launched in November of 2016 and is estimated to be able of hefting as much as 25 tons of payload to orbit. While powerful, the rocket doesn’t have the best track record. Money woes and technical issues delayed the rocket’s inaugural flight. Its second flight ended in failure with the loss of the Shijian 18 satellite. Long March rockets are “coded,” the vehicle that launched Shijian 20 was listed as Long March-5 Y3.

While NASA astronauts cannot travel beyond Earth’s atmosphere without expensive help from Mother Russia, China has been working to send its “taikonauts” to the nation’s Chinese Space Station (CSS) which could be on orbit as soon as 2022. While this in-and-of itself would be a major milestone, the communist nation isn’t stopping with a manned station.

China has ambitions beyond low-Earth orbit. It has the Moon in its sights – once again. The Chang’e-5 the follow-on to its highly-successful Chang’e-4  planned to touch down on the Moon next year. The timing of the Chang’e-5 mission was thrown off when things went “wrong” during the 2017 Long March 5 launch. 

Despite this minor setback, China is still working toward pushing forward to Mars. The Long March 5 is a large part of the nation’s ambitions as it has set its eyes toward the Red Planet. 

Video courtesy of SciNews





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