China’s Smart Dragon rocket makes maiden flight
BEIJING (China Daily/ANN) - Weekend launch puts three satellites into orbits 550 km above the Earth.
Smart Dragon 1, the newest model in China’s carrier rocket family, conducted its maiden flight over the weekend from north-western China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre, expanding the nation’s launch service portfolio.
SD 1 Y1, the first rocket in the solid-propellant SD 1 series, blasted off at noon on Saturday from a large launch vehicle, thundering into blue skies. After several minutes of flight, it successfully placed three satellites, designed and built by three private satellite start-ups in Beijing, into orbits about 550 kilometres above the Earth.
The mission gave China a fourth carrier rocket alongside China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp’s Long March series, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp’s Kuaizhou, and the SQX of privately owned space start-up i-Space in Beijing.
Developed by ChinaRocket, a subsidiary of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the country’s leading rocket maker, SD 1 is 19.5 metres tall, has a diameter of 1.2 metres and weighs 23.1 metric tons.
Though SD 1 is China’s smallest and lightest carrier rocket, it boasts the highest carrying efficiency of all Chinese solid-propellant rockets, said Gong Min, SD 1’s project manager at the academy, which is part of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.
He said the rocket can place multiple satellites with a combined weight of 200 kilograms into a sun-synchronous orbit 500 km above the ground.
The academy began developing the rocket in February last year, intending to use it to meet surging demand for launch services from the country’s flourishing satellite industry.
It takes only six months to produce one SD 1 rocket, Gong said, adding that its prelaunch preparations are much easier than those for large rockets and take only 24 hours.
He said that to make the rocket more competitive in the market, engineers used a number of innovative methods to speed up design and testing and to control its production cost.
“For instance, we optimized or streamlined designs of several major parts on the rocket, removed unnecessary components and used as much commercial, off-the-shelf products as possible,” he said. “We also used advanced simulation to replace time-consuming ground tests.”
Tang Yagang, president of China-Rocket, said the SD 1 is reliable and economical and can carry out launches for clients at short notice. It is launched from an off-road mobile vehicle, he said, meaning it could be launched anywhere at anytime－giving it outstanding operational flexibility.
In addition to SD 1, the company is making plans for research on and development of new solid-and liquid-propellant carrier rockets, Tang said.
Li Shaoning, deputy chief engineer at ChinaRocket, said SD 1 is designed to mainly fulfil technology demonstration and satellite replacement tasks.
He said the second SD 1 rocket, scheduled to be launched from the Jiuquan centre around the end of this year, will have some modifications compared with the first one.
The company has had orders for seven SD 1 rockets, including the first one, Li said.
The major payload in Saturday’s mission was Qiansheng 01A, a 65 kg satellite made by Beijing Qiansheng Exploration Technology for remote sensing and Earth observation operations. It is the first step in Beijing Qiansheng’s effort to build and operate a 24-satellite network capable of providing remote sensing and communication services, the company said.