Sea Launch of Long March Rocket Points to New Chinese Capability
Sea Launch of Long March Rocket Points to New Chinese Capability

Sea Launch of Long March Rocket Points to New Chinese Capability


China conducted its second seaborne space launch early Tuesday morning, with a Long March-11 solid propellant light launch vehicle lifting off from a mobile floating platform in the Yellow Sea, in waters off the coast of East China’s Shandong Province. The launch mission from sea successfully sent a group of nine commercial remote sensing satellites, all belonging to the Jilin-1 03 family, into the 535-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

Compared to the first launch, developers have further optimized and streamlined its sea launch capabilities by deploying a new launch vessel and putting a new coastal spaceport into operation, laying a solid foundation for more frequent and regular sea missions in the future.The group of satellites launched on Tuesday were developed by the Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co Limited based in Changchun, Northeast China’s Jilin Province. The satellites will provide remote sensing data and a range of services including forestry, agriculture and maritime, for their clients.

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The Long March-11 is a light-lift solid launch vehicle, around 20 meters in length with a diameter of 2 meters, weighing about 58 tons. Before the Tuesday launch, it had conducted nine successful flights, including China’s first sea launch conducted in June 2019. The assembly of the rocket for the Tuesday sea launch mission and the rocket-satellite installation were both carried out at the Dongfang Spaceport also referred to as Eastern Aerospace Port. The rocket was then transferred from Haiyang port in Haiyang of Shandong Province to its designated launch site.

The developer team of the Long March-11 is working on a new solid propellant rocket model which has a two-ton payload launch capability to the Low Earth orbit, and it is expected to make its maiden experiment flight from sea by 2022, Li Tongyu, commander-in-chief of the Long March-11 carrier rocket, revealed to the Global Times. Dubbed China’s fifth space launch center, construction of the Dongfang Aerospace Port as a base for sea launches of light-lift solid rockets was approved in July 2019, and concrete progress has been made.

With the new port now put into operation, China has now laid a foundation for regular future sea launches. The Tuesday launch site is located some 350 kilometers to the southeast of the Haiyang port in Shandong in the Yellow Sea. The rocket was transported by the Debo-3 ship to the designated site before being launched from the same ship. The Long March-11 maiden flight from the sea took place on June 5, 2019, and it lifted off from the large semi-submersible barge Tairui.

The ship development team conducted a mock experiment before the mission, and felt the new ship would be able to adapt well to the changing environment at sea. The seaborne launch technology meets the growing demand for low inclination satellites and helps China provide launch services for countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative. Unlike the Tairui, the Debo-3 can sail by itself, and is thinner and longer, making it more vulnerable to the weather and maritime conditions.

Sea Launch of Long March Rocket Points to New Chinese Capability
China has for the second time launched a 58-tonne rocket from a civilian naval vessel, demonstrating a new capability and raising the specter that similar launchers could be covertly fitted to “merchant” ships.
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