China launched four new communications satellites this week in two launches from different launch sites, within hours of each other, as the country’s intense launch activity continues.
First up, a Long March 2C lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, northwest China, at 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT, 7:15 p.m. local time) on Aug. 24.
The rocket used a Yuanzheng 1S upper stage to deliver three payloads into near polar orbits with average altitudes of around 680 miles (1,100 kilometers) above Earth, according to U.S. space tracking.
Chinese space contractors and Chinese state media announced that two satellites were “fusion” communication technology test satellites with the acronym RSW. No further details were provided.
The satellites were developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), a major satellite developer belonging to the country’s giant state-owned space contractor, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). DFH Satellite, a subsidiary of CAST, published then deleted an article apparently accounting for the third satellite on the flight, the nature and objectives of which also remain unknown.
Just over four hours later at 11:41 a.m. EDT (1541 GMT, 11:41 p.m. local time) at Xichang in a hilly area of southwest China, a Long March 3B successfully sent another satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Chinese media described the payload as a “new communication technology experiment satellite number 7,” or TJSW 7. No further details were provided. The classified nature of the launch suggests the satellite is intended for defense purposes.
NASA Spaceflight suggests the spacecraft is part of a series of military satellites thought to be part of a Chinese early-warning missile detection system, similar in nature to the United States’ Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS).
The two launches were China’s 30th and 31st orbital missions of 2021. All but two of these launches have been carried out by CASC, which is planning more than 40 launches this year.
CASC’s next missions are likely to be the launch of a new Gaofen 5 Earth observation satellite early GMT time Sept. 6 from Taiyuan, north China, and a commercial ChinaSat communications satellite from Xichang on Sept. 9.
A new space station cargo mission, Tianzhou 3, is being prepared for launch from Wenchang on the south coast in mid-September to provide supplies ahead of the Shenzhou 13 crewed mission in October.
Commercial Chinese companies are also preparing for their own missions, with Expace planning to launch two Kuaizhou-1A light-lift solid rocket launches from Jiuquan later this month.