The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) has successfully conducted the inaugural flight of its Kuai Zhou-1A (KZ-1A) launcher, placing a small Earth imaging satellite and two CubeSats into a 530-km Low Earth Orbit (LEO).
The launch took place at 12:11:12 China Standard Time (CAST, 04:11:12 UTC) on Monday 9 January. The KZ-1A rocket was launched from its transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle at the Kuaizhou launch pad of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre (JSLC) in northwest China. After 26 minutes of flight, the launch vehicle placed its primary payload, Jilin 1 Earth-observation satellite, and two secondary payloads, Xingyun 1 and Kaidun 1, into a highly-inclined 541 x 534 km orbit. This is the KZ-1A’s China’s second orbital launch in 2017.
The KZ-1A has been developed by the CASIC’s 4th Academy based on the technology of the Kuai Zhou (KZ) launcher, which was described as the world’s first integrated launcher-satellite system. The KZ launcher has conducted two successful launches in 2013 and 2014, each time placing a small Earth observation satellite into orbit. During the 2014 Zhuhai Air Show, the CASIC revealed its Fei Tian-1 (FT-1) commercial launcher concept, which was based on the KZ technology, but does not have the payload integrated with the launch vehicle’s 4th-stage. The FT-1 was later renamed KZ-1A.
The KZ-1A is 19.4 m in overall length. The first- and second-stage are 1.4 m in diameter, and the third- and fourth-stage are 1.2 m in diameter. Payload fairing is available in two configurations: 1.2 m-diameter and 1.4-m diameter. The launcher employs solid-fuelled first-, second-, and third stages, and a liquid-fuelled upper stage. It has a lift-off mass of 30 t, and can place 250 kg payload to 500 km SSO, or 200 kg payload to 700 km SSO. The launcher is carried and launch from a wheeled TEL vehicle. Launch preparation at the launch site can be carried out by a crew of 6 people within 24 hours.
This is also the first commercial launch mission carried out by CASIC, which has been eyeing the lucrative satellite launch market for some time. In April 2016, CASIC formed Launch Vehicle Technology Ltd. Co., also known as Expace in its English name, to spearhead its commercial space services. Expace plans to build the Kuaizhou series solid-fuel launch vehicles at the proposed spacecraft manufacturing facility in Wuhan, Hubei Province. With a total investment of RMB 150 billion (US $22.47 billion), the facility will achieve a production capability of 50 launch vehicles and 140 satellites per year by 2020.
Jilin Linye 1 (Lingqiao Shipin 03) is an Earth-observation video imaging satellite designed to capture high-definition videos with a ground resolution of under one metre and with a swath of 11 km × 4.5 km. The satellite has an operation lifespan of 3 years and will be used for forestry monitoring. The satellite was designed and developed by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Ltd (CGSTL), a commercial branch of the famous Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Machinery and Physics (CIOMP) of the China Academy of Sciences (CAS), the design institute for the optical imaging package of most Chinese reconnaissance and Earth-observation satellites.
Xingyun Shiyan-1, or Xingyun 1, developed by the CASIC 9th Academy, is described as a CubeSat designed to test narrow-band communication downlink technologies from LEO.
Kaidun-1 (Caton-1), developed by the Beijing Caton Universal Technology Ltd., is a CubeSat-2U that will be used for ship traffic management and probably carrying an AIS ship-tracking receiver.