Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre
The Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre (TSLC), which became operational in the late 1960s, was a major lunch site for ICBMs and over-land submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) tests. Western intelligence often referred to the launch facility as “Wuzhai Missile and Space Centre”. The launch centre was adopted for space launches in the late 1980s, and has been supporting Sun Synchronous Orbits (SSO) missions using the CZ-4 family of launch vehicles. The centre remains a military installation today and is known as the 25th Test and Training Base (or Base 25) in its military designator.
Despite being named after Taiyuan, a major industrial city in the northern Shanxi Province, the launch centre is actually located in Kelan County, about 284 km northwest of the city of Taiyuan. The use of Taiyuan in its naming was to disguise its true location, a trait regularly used by the Chinese military during the Cold War era. Facilities of the launch centre are spread in the valleys of the Lüliang Mountains, about 1,500 m above the sea level. The region has a continental monsoon climate, and is rather arid. The average yearly temperature is only 5°C.
China’s ballistic missile testing has traditionally been conducted towards the west, from the launch pad to downrange target zones in Xinjiang in northwest China. The original rangehead at the Jiuquan launch site (Base 20) could support the testing of ballistic missiles to range of up to 1,800 km. With the increase in the range of newer missiles being introduced in the mid-1960s, a new rangehead east of the existing launch site had to be sought to support overland tests within China territory. As a result, the new Northern China Missile Test Base (Base 25) became operational in December 1968. Since then, the centre has become a primary missile test facility in China, having supported the testing of all new ballistic missiles.
A permanent launch pad (Launch Complex 7) was constructed in 1979 to support both ICBM tests and space launches. However, the first orbital launch from the launch complex did not take place until nine years later, when a CZ-4A launch vehicle lifting off from the pad lofted Fengyun 1 meteorological satellite into an 800 km SSO. The centre was partially declassified in the late 1980s in support of China’s bid to become a provider for the the international commercial satellite launch market. Between 1997 and 1999, a total of 12 Motorola Iridium global wireless communications satellites were launched from the centre on the CZ-2C/SD launch vehicle. In 1999, a CZ-4B launched from the centre lofted the first China-Brazil Earth Resource Satellite (CBERS-1).
Space Launch Facilities
Space launch facilities at Taiyuan include three single-pad launch complexes, a technical area for vehicle and spacecraft receiving and checkout, a communications centre, a launch control centre, and a TT&C centre. Rocket segments are transported to the launch centre via railway, and offloaded at a transit station south of the launch complex. They are then transported by road to the technical area for checkout procedures. The launch vehicle is assembled on the launch pad by using a crane at the top of the umbilical tower to hoist each stage of the rocket in place. The payload is airlifted to the Taiyuan Wusu Airport about 300 km away, and then transported to the centre by road.
The TT&C Centre, also known as Lüliang Command Post, is headquartered in the city of Taiyuan. It has four subordinate radar tracking stations in Yangqu (Shanxi), Lishi (Shanxi), Yulin (Shaanxi), and Hancheng (Shaanxi).
Launch Complex 7 (LC7) became operational in 1979 and was the only active pad for orbital launch missions in the Taiyuan launch centre prior to 2008. The launch complex received an extensive modernisation overhaul in 2008, but has not been used for orbital launch missions since then. Instead, the launch complex has been used to support China’s missile and other weapon tests, including the WU-14 (DF-ZF) hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) flight tests using the CZ-2 booster. The launch complex has a single pad with a fixed umbilical tower, with the liquid propellant storage facilities located nearby. The complex supported SSO missions using the CZ-4A/B/C and LEO missions using the CZ-2C.
Launch Complex 7
Launch Complex 9 (LC9) became operational in 2008 and has since then become the primary space launch pad at Taiyuan. Facilities at Launch Complex 9 are not very dissimilar to the previous complex, consisting of a fixed umbilical tower, underground liquid propellant storage, and a launch control console (firing room) nearby. The launch complex has supported both CZ-4B/C and CZ-2C launches.
Launch Complex 9
The third launch pad (LC10?), which was constructed around 2014, is a dedicated launch facility for the new-generation CZ-6 small-load launch vehicle. The pad lacks the fixed umbilical tower. Instead, it features a vehicle erection-launch mechanism. The vehicle is examined and mated with its payload in a horizontal position inside the vehicle processing hall, and is rolled out on a wheeled vehicle to the pad, where it is erected, fuelled, and then launched.