Long March 2D to deliver Venezuelan VRSS-2 Earth-observing satellite into orbit
China is preparing for its second orbital mission after a three-month-long period with no launches. This time it will send a Long March 2D rocket into space carrying an Earth-observation satellite for Venezuela. Liftoff is planned for sometime between 12:05 a.m. and 12:33 a.m. EDT (04:05 and 04:33 GMT) Oct. 9, 2017, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gansu Province.
The mission’s sole passenger is the second Venezuelan Remote Sensing Satellite (VRSS-2), named “Sucre” after a Venezuelan independence leader Antonio Jose de Sucre. The spacecraft weighs about one metric ton and is based on the CAST-2000 satellite bus. This compact platform is designed to host a number of payloads for various applications including navigation, remote sensing, and communications.
The mission is a result of an agreement signed in October 2014 between Venezuela’s Ministry of People’s Power for Science, Technology and Intermediate Industries, and the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC). Under this contract, CGWIC was obligated to build and launch the satellite. Although the mission was initially scheduled for launch in September 2017, recent setbacks with Chinese launchers forced the country to delay many orbital flights, including VRSS-2.
VRSS-2 is fitted with two deployable solar arrays and has a panchromatic camera with a resolution of 3.3 feet (one meter) and a multi-spectral imaging system with a resolution of 13.1 feet (four meters). It also features shortwave infrared (SWIR) and long wave infrared (LWIR) imaging instruments. The satellite will be used to collecting imagery of Earth for different Venezuelan government agencies.
The first satellite in the series, VRSS-1 (named Miranda after Venezuelan revolutionary Sebastian Francisco de Miranda), was also built by CGWIC and was also based on the CAST-2000 platform. That spacecraft was launched into space by a Long March 2D rocket on Sept. 29, 2012, to study the territory of Venezuela and help with planning, agriculture, and disaster recovery.
The Long March 2D launcher that will be employed to deliver VRSS-2 into space is a two-stage rocket developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. It is mainly used to send satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). The 135-foot (41.2-meter) tall booster can launch payloads of up to 3.5 metric tons to LEO and has a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) capability of up to 1.3 metric tons.
Little is known about preparations for the launch and the mission itself as Chinese officials typically keep details under wraps. What is known is the rocket has already been assembled. Additionally, the satellite was attached and encapsulated in a payload fairing.
After liftoff, the Long March 2D rocket will most likely stick to its usual mission profile by heading south over mainland China. The ignition of the vehicle’s first stage YF-21C engine to produce 665,884 pounds (2,962 kilonewtons) of thrust will start a 10-minute long flight. It will culminate in placing the VRSS-2 satellite into SSO at an altitude of about 385 by 431 miles (619 by 694 kilometers), inclined 98 degrees.
The initial phase of the flight is expected to last nearly three minutes and will end with the separation of the rocket’s first stage. Then the second stage, utilizing a YF-24C cluster engine, will assume control over the rest of the launch. It will continue the mission for about seven minutes, heading toward its designated orbit in order to successfully deploy the spacecraft.
Monday’s flight will be the 252nd flight of the Long March rocket series. It will be also the fourth orbital launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in 2017 and the 10th mission conducted by China this year.
The next Chinese launch is currently scheduled for Nov. 15 when a Long March 4C rocket will orbit the country’s Fengyun 3D meteorology satellite and the Head-1 ship tracking spacecraft for the Dutch company Head Aerospace. However, another mission could be launched sooner as China conducts many of its orbital flights unannounced.
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