Kuai Zhou (Fast Vessel)

Kuai Zhou (KZ, or “Fast Vessel”) is a solid-fuelled, small-load orbital launch vehicle family developed by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC). The basic variant Kuai Zhou launcher made two successful flights in 2013—14. CASIC is planning to introduce three Kuai Zhou designs for the commercial satellite launch market, including the 1.4 m-diameter KZ-1A, the 2.2 m-diameter KZ-11, and the 3 m-diameter KZ-21.

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Programme

In 2002, CASIC began the development of a slid-rocket booster for China’s kinetic kill vehicle (KKV) missile interceptor and anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon. The contract to develop the booster was eventually awarded to Sanjiang Aerospace Group (also known as Base 066 and CASIC 9th Academy). This led to the introduction of the KT-409 (referred to as SC-19 by Western intelligence), a four-stage (three solid stages plus a liquid upper-stage) booster with thrust vectoring, divert and altitude control system (DACS), and four grid tail fins. Three flights were conducted between 2005 and 2007, with the last test successfully destroying a retired meteorological satellite Feng Yun 1C in orbit in January 2007.

In 2003, Sanjiang Aerospace Group began to develop the concept of a rapid-response orbital launch system based on the KT-409 technology, with Liang Jiuqiu (梁纪秋) appointed as the Chief Designer. The launch system, named Kuai Zhou (KZ), was eventually approved for engineering development in 2009. In 2011, Sanjiang Aerospace Group was merged into the CASIC 4th Academy (CASIC Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology), allowing the Kuai Zhou project to be prioritised in resource and funding allocation. The Kuai Zhou launch system made two successful flights in 2013 and 2014, placing Kuaizhou 1 and 2 into orbit.

In February 2016, CASIC Launch Vehicle Technology Ltd. Co. (Expace) was registered in Wuhan, Hubei Province, serving as the commercial front of the corporation to offer commercial satellite launch service using the Kuai Zhou series launch vehicles. A new production facility has also been constructed at Wuhan, which is expected to have the capability to produce up to 50 Kuai Zhou series launch vehicles and 140 satellites by 2020. CASIC hoped to use its experience in solid rocket technology as a leverage to break into the lucrative commercial satellite launch market, which has been so far under the monopoly of its sister group the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

Kuai Zhou (KZ)

The Kuai Zhou was described as the world’s first integrated launcher-satellite system, similar in concept to the U.S. Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) initiative. The launch system allows a launch mission to be prepared within days, rather than weeks or even months required by a conventional liquid-fuelled launch vehicle. This capability enables rapid deployment of tactical space-based capabilities in response to an emergency such as a natural disaster. In time of war, this capability also enables conventional satellites damaged or destroyed in an enemy ASAT weapon attack to be replaced by ‘good enough’ small satellites to quickly restore at least some of the functions of the satellites lost.

Compared with a conventional orbital launch system where the launch vehicle and its payload each have their own power supply, electronic system, guidance navigation and control (GNC), and propellant tanks, the Kuai Zhou system only has one set of these systems shared by the launcher and payload, thus greatly reducing the system complexity and allowing utilisation of residual propellants within the launch vehicle after orbital insertion. The integrated upper-stage/satellite also eliminates the requirement for payload fairing, satellite adapter, and separation mechanism, which further reduces weight and complexity.

For a Kuai Zhou launch system, the satellite is integrated with the launch vehicle at the production line and can be stored in a ‘ready-to-launch’ condition for months or even years. Once a launch mission is ordered, the launch vehicle and payload can be prepared at the storage facility within days. The launch system is then transported on a wheeled TEL vehicle to a pre-surveyed launch site, where it can be examined and launched within several hours. The overall launch preparation time of the Kuai Zhou system is believed to be comparable with a mobile-launch ballistic missile system. CASIC have revealed different Kuai Zhou payloads for reconnaissance, Earth observation, and communications roles.

Kuai Zhou Design

The Kuai Zhou launch system is a four-stage rocket, using solid rocket engines on the first-, second-, and third-stage, and a liquid fourth-stage which is also the payload. The launch system is about 20 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. The launch system can place up to 430 kg payload into 500 km Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO).

The TEL vehicle used by the Kuai Zhou launch system is based on the Wanshan (WS) series heavy-load truck, which was derived from the Soviet/Belarusian MAZ543 but with German diesel engine and transmissions. The configuration of the Kuai Zhou TEL vehicle is 12×10. A new launch site dedicated for Kuai Zhou launch missions was completed in 2012 at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, several kilometres northeast of the existing South Launch Site (SLS). The launch site features a concrete-paved launch spot linked to nearby rocket/satellite preparation facilities by roads. The launch site has two lighting robs but no umbilical tower or flame trenches.

Kuai Zhou Missions

An orbital launch was conducted from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on 25 September 2013 at 12:37 CST (04:37 UTC), placing a small remote-sensing satellite Kuaizhou 1 into orbit. Chinese state-run media briefly reported the mission, stating that the satellite was to be used to monitor natural disaster and provide disaster relief information. The launch vehicle’s liquid-fuelled upper stage also served as the satellite. This was confirmed by NORAD orbital data, which only detected one object in orbit after the launch.

Kuaizhou 1 was a small remote-sensing satellite designed and built by Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT).  The satellite initially reached a 276 x 293 km orbit inclined at 90.15°, and carried out an orbit elevation manoeuvre on 30 September, raising itself to a 300 x 306 km orbit. At this altitude the satellite is capable of providing ground images with a spatial resolution of 1.2 m. The CCD camera can swing sideway 20° in either direction. The ground control received the first satellite image within 24 hours of the launch.

A second launch of the Kuai Zhou system was conducted from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on 21 November 2014 at 14:37 CST (06:37 UTC), placing the Kuaizhou 2 remote-sensing satellite orbit orbit. Like its predecessor, Kuaizhou 2 was also developed by HIT.


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KZ-1A / FT-1

The KZ-1A (also known as Fei Tian-1 or FT-1) is the small-load orbital launcher introduced by CASIC based on the Kuai Zhou technology. The KZ-1A inherited the basic design of the Kuai Zhou launch system, with three solid-fuelled stages and a liquid upper stage, but does not have the payload integrated with the launch vehicle’s fourths-stage, thus with reduced payload capacity compared with the original Kuai Zhou system.

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 has a lift-off mass of 30 tonnes, and can place 250 kg payload to 500 km SSO, or 200 kg payload to 700 km SSO. The launch vehicle is carried and launch from a wheeled TEL vehicle. The launch preparation only requires 6 people and can be carried out in 24 hours.

The KZ-1A is scheduled to make its debut flight in December 2016, lofting a small Earth-observation satellite (Jilin 1-03) and two CubeSats into orbit.


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KZ-11

The KZ-11 is a solid-fuelled launch vehicle developed by CASIC jointly with private enterprises for the commercial satellite launch market. The launch vehicle features a larger 2.2 m-diameter solid rocket and can place up to 1,000 kg payload to 700 km SSO. Like its predecessor, the KZ-11 is also mobile launched with a rapid-launch capability. The debut flight of the launch vehicle is expected to take place in 2017.

The launch vehicle is 2.2 m in diameter, and can be fitted with two types of payload fairing: 2.2 m-diameter and 2.6-m diameter. The launcher has a lift-off mass of 78 tonnes, and can place 1,000 kg payload to 700 km SSO. The launch vehicle is carried and launch from a wheeled TEL vehicle. The entire system only requires 10 people to operate and the preparation time at the launch site is only 2 days.


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KZ-21

CASIC is also developing a 3 m-diameter solid rocket engine, which will be used for the larger KZ-21 launch vehicle. The launch vehicle is expected to enter service by 2025.


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Mission History

#    DATE           LV        SITE        PAYLOAD         ORBIT
---------------------------------------------------------------------
1    2013-09-25     KZ        Jiuquan     KuaiZhou 1      LEO
2    2014-11-21     KZ        Jiuquan     KuaiZhou 2      LEO
3    2017-01-09     KZ-1A     Jiuquan     Jilin 1-03      LEO
                                          Xingyun 1
                                          Kaidun 1

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Specifications

General features        KZ-1        KZ-1A        KZ-11
--------------------------------------------------------
Core stages.............4           4            3?
Strap-on boosters.......0           0            0
Length..................19.4 m      19.4 m       N/A
Diameter................1.4 m       1.4 m        2.2 m
Mass, gross.............30 t        30 t         78t
Mass, empty.............N/A         N/A          N/A
Lift-off thrust.........N/A         N/A          N/A
Payload to 500 km SSO...430 kg      250 kg
Payload to 700 km SSO..             200 kg       1,000 kg

1st-stage
--------------------------------------------------------
Length..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Diameter................1.4 m       1.4 m        2.2 m
Mass, gross.............N/A         N/A          N/A
Mass, empty.............N/A         N/A          N/A
Mass, propellants.......N/A         N/A          N/A
Engine..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Thrust..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Isp.....................N/A         N/A          N/A
Burn time...............N/A         N/A          N/A
Propellants.............Solid       Solid        Solid

2nd-stage
--------------------------------------------------------
Length..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Diameter................1.4 m       1.4 m        2.2 m
Mass, gross.............N/A         N/A          N/A
Mass, empty.............N/A         N/A          N/A
Mass, propellants.......N/A         N/A          N/A
Engine..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Thrust..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Isp.....................N/A         N/A          N/A
Burn time...............N/A         N/A          N/A
Propellants.............Solid       Solid        Solid

3rd-stage
--------------------------------------------------------
Length..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Diameter................1.2 m       1.2 m        2.2 m
Mass, gross.............N/A         N/A          N/A
Mass, empty.............N/A         N/A          N/A
Mass, propellants.......N/A         N/A          N/A
Engine..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Thrust..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Isp.....................N/A         N/A          N/A
Burn time...............N/A         N/A          N/A
Propellants.............Solid       Solid        Solid

4th-stage
--------------------------------------------------------
Length..................N/A         N/A
Diameter................1.2 m       1.2 m
Mass, gross.............N/A         N/A
Mass, empty.............N/A         N/A
Mass, propellants.......N/A         N/A
Engine..................N/A         N/A
Thrust..................N/A         N/A
Isp.....................N/A         N/A
Burn time...............N/A         N/A
Propellants.............Liquid      Liquid

Payload Fairing
--------------------------------------------------------
Length..................N/A         N/A          N/A
Diameter................            1.2/1.4 m    2.2/2.6 m


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Photo Gallery

Kuaizhou

Kuai Zhou at launch site


kuaizhou-tel2

Kuai Zhou in launch position on its transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicle


ft-1-model

Model of the FT-1 (later renamed KZ-1A) with a 1.4 m-diameter payload fairing on display at the Zhuhai Air Show


kz1a_1

Marketing brochure of the KZ-1A launch vehicle (Credit: CASIC)


mmexport1483947107307

KZ-1A


mmexport1483947115806

KZ-1A


kz11_1

Marketing brochure of the KZ-11 launch vehicle (Credit: CASIC)


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