With orbital deployments from Jiuquan and Xichang, China wraps up a record-breaking year

On December 29, China successfully launched its 55th and 54th orbital launches of 2021, sending satellites from Xichang and Jiuquan spaceports within hours of one another. At 11:43 a.m. Eastern on Wednesday, a Long March 3B rocket launched from Xichang’s launch facility 2, delivering the communications technology trial satellite-9 (TJSW-9) into the geosynchronous transfer orbit.

The CAST (China Academy of Spaceflight Technology) built the TJSW-9 satellite, but no additional details were given, implying that it has at least some military applications. The launch complex 2 in Xichang has now handled 100 launches, making it the first-ever in China to do so. Long March 2E rockets launched Badr-1 for Pakistan in the year 1990, as well as the Australian Optus B1. The number also contains the Long March 3B’s disastrous first launch in 1996, which carried Intelsat 708.

A Long March 2D rocket launched at 6:13 a.m. from Jiuquan in Gobi Desert, sending the Tianhui-4 mapping spacecraft into a 483-kilometer by 498-kilometer orbit slanted by 89 degrees. According to CASC and Chinese media, the satellite would be used for mapping, similar to previous Tianhui spacecraft. The Tianhui-1 (04) was released earlier this year, but Tianhui-4 series debuted on Wednesday.

The Long March 2D included a dual, side-by-side release adapter for the very first time, as well as a newer, bigger payload fairing, according to CASC. Two things in orbit were cataloged by US space tracking, one of which being Tianhui-4. Because the second phase of Long March 2D generally does a deorbit burn, it’s unclear if Tianhui-4 is joined by a second satellite or the dummy payload.

The satellite’s capabilities were not revealed, as they were with TSJW-9, assuming military reasons. The two launches round off a record-breaking year for China in terms of launch activity, exceeding the previous high of 39 launches in 2018 and 2020. The 55 releases do not include allegations of the hypersonic vehicle test, as the Financial Times recently reported.

CASC completed 48 successful Long March launches, including the 400th Long March deployment. The launch of China’s first space station module, dubbed Tianhe, in April was one of the major missions, and it has since got 2 Tianzhou cargo spacecraft and 2 Shenzhou crewed flights. China, on the other hand, launched 19 rockets in 2015, all of which were CASC’s Long March rockets. The country is presently deploying over twice as many flights, with a significant increase in total mass launched and the development of the commercial space industry.

Four Kuaizhou-1A rockets were launched by Expace, a subsidiary of CASC’s sister state-owned corporation CASIC. However, the most recent failed, potentially causing more delays to the company’s Xingyun narrowband satellite constellation as well as commercial launch ambitions. iSpace deployed 2 Hyperbola-1 solid rockets, which both failed and lost their cargoes. In December, Galactic Energy, a competitor, successfully deployed its Ceres-1 solid rocket.

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