China opened its 2017 orbital launch campaign on Thursday 5 January, with the loft of a secretive “communications technology test satellite” (Tongxin Jishu Shiyan Weixing 2, or TJSW-2). The Long March 3B/G2 (Y39) launch vehicle carrying the satellite lifted off from Launch Complex 2 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre at 23:18 China Standard Time (CST, 15:18 UTC). This is the first orbital launch across the global in 2017, and the 245th flight of the Long March series launch vehicles.
Chinese state media described the satellite to be a “new generation high-capacity communications and broadcasting satellite, designed for satellite communications and data transmissions roles” and will also demonstrate “multi-spectral broadband high-speed data transmissions”. The satellite was developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).
The lack of explanation about the purpose and technical details of the mission has led to speculations that it may be associated with a military payload. An experiment satellite with similar naming, TJSW-1, was launched from Xichang in September 2015. That satellite was described as a testbed for broadband communications technology in the Ka-band.
The local government news website of Ji’an, Jiangxi Province reported the impact of the discarded payload fairing from the Long March 3B rocket inside the boundaries of Suichuan County. The report referred to the mission as Huoyan 1, possibly the military designation of the payload.
2016 has been a highly successful year for China’s space programme, with a total of 22 orbital launch mission conducted – the highest record in a single year in its history. This number supressed Russia with 19 launches and levelled the United States with also 22 launches. More importantly, the Chinese space programme achieved a number of breakthroughs, including the successful launch of the Tiangong 2 and Shenzhou 11 crewed mission, and the successful maiden flights of the new-generation Long March 7 and Long March 5 rockets from the newly constructed Wenchang Space Centre in Hainan.
In 2017, the Chinese space industry expects to launch as many as 30 missions, including a cargo resupply mission with the Tiangong 2 orbital station in April, the Cheng’e 5 lunar sample return mission in December, and the second flight test mission of the Long March 5 launch vehicle carrying an excremental capsule for China’s next-generation multipurpose crew vehicle.