China launches 4 satellites on 2 rockets within hours of each other

China launched four new communications satellites this week in two launches from different launch sites, hours apart, as the country’s intense launch activity continues.

First, a 2C Long March took off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, northwest China, at 7.15am EDT (11:15 GMT, 7.15pm local time) on August 24.

The rocket used a Yuanzheng 1S upper stage to carry three payloads into near-polar orbits with average altitudes of about 1,100 kilometers above Earth, according to US space tracking.

Chinese space entrepreneurs and Chinese state media announcement that two satellites were “fusion” communications technology test satellites with the acronym RSW. No further details were provided.

Related: The latest news from the Chinese space program

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The launch of the Long March 3B carrying the TSJW 7 satellite on August 24, 2021.

The launch of the Long March 3B carrying the TSJW 7 satellite on August 24, 2021. (Image credit: CASC)
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A Chinese Long March 2C rocket launches three communications satellites into orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on August 24, 2021.

A Chinese Long March 2C rocket launches three communications satellites into orbit from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on August 24, 2021. (Image credit: CNSA)
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A Long March 2C ready to be launched from Jiuquan in August 2021.

A Long March 2C ready to be launched from Jiuquan in August 2021. (Image credit: CASC)
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Preparation of a 3B Long March to launch the TSJW 7 satellite in Xichang.

Preparation of a 3B Long March to launch the TSJW 7 satellite in Xichang. (Image credit: CASC)

The satellites were developed by the Chinese Academy of Space Technologies (CAST), a major satellite developer owned by the country’s entrepreneurial space giant, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). DFH Satellite, a subsidiary of CAST, published then deleted an article apparently reporting on the third satellite in 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 local time) in Xichang in a hilly region in southwest China, a 3B Long March successfully sent another satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.

Chinese media described the payload as “New Communications Technology Experiment Satellite Number 7”, or TJSW 7. No further details were provided. The classified nature of the launch suggests that the satellite is intended for defense purposes.

NASA space flights suggest The spacecraft is one of a series of military satellites believed to be part of a Chinese early warning missile detection system, similar in nature to the US space-based infrared system (SBIRS).

The two launches were China’s 30th and 31st orbital missions in 2021. All but two of those launches were carried out by CASC, which plans more than 40 launches this year.

Next CCAC missions are likely to be the launch of a new Gaofen 5 Earth observation satellite at the start of GMT on September 6 from Taiyuan in northern China and a commercial communications satellite. ChinaSat from Xichang on September 9.

A new space station cargo mission, Tianzhou 3, is being prepared for launch from Wenchang on the south coast in mid-September to deliver supplies ahead of the Shenzhou 13 crewed mission in October.

Chinese trading companies are also preparing for their own missions, with Expace planning to launch two Kuaizhou-1A light solid rocket launches from Jiuquan later this month.

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