China's First Space Station Module get Launched, Creation of Megaconstellation Operator China SatNet, Significant Ride-Share Mission Launched on Long March 6 - Ep 31
Hello and welcome to another episode of the Dongfang Hour China Aero/Space News Roundup! Without further ado, the news update from the week of 26 April - 2 May.
1) Chinese Space Station: launch of the core Module Tianhe on-board Launch March 5B
On April 29 2021, China successfully sent the first module of the Chinese Space Station into orbit. The module was a 22.5-ton core module called Tianhe (天和, or “heavenly peace”). It was launched aboard a Long March 5B.
Tianhe is rightfully named the core module: it will be the centerpiece of the station which will host living quarters for the taikonauts, a bathroom, a kitchen, it will also be the main control unit (attitude, trajectory control), handles the fuel, power and air management systems. It is designed to host 3 taikonauts, and can hold up to 6 taikonauts during rotations. The Tianhe module will be joined next year by the Mengtian and Wentian experimental modules.
In 2024, the Chinese space station will also be joined by a space telescope called Xuntian, which will not be physically connected to the station but will evolve in the vicinity, and docking only for maintenance purposes.
2) Creation of a New Space SoE China SatNet
Major news update on Thursday 29 April which first came in the form of a press release from SASAC. The press release announced the creation of a China Satellite Networks Group Company, potentially SatNet for short, and puts that company under the direct administration of SASAC. SatNet is tasked with deploying and operating China’s LEO broadband constellation, widely speculated to be GuoWang.
The creation of a SatNet company at this level of the SOE hierarchy is hugely significant. SatNet is, at least in theory, at the same level in the hierarchy as CASC, CASIC, and the big 3 telcos (all of which are also directly controlled by SASAC). If we compare this to the previous arrangement, you had China’s biggest broadband project being done by CASC (Hongyan), and another by CASIC (Hongyun), with both projects involving subsidiary companies with multiple shareholders (for example, Hongyan’s operating company, MacroNet, has shareholders including CASC, China Telecom, and CETC). This would have meant, presumably, that projects like Hongyan would have mostly used the technology of CASC, Hongyun would have used technology for CASIC, and the innovation and competition would have occurred in the long-term, after we find out how these constellations work. On the other hand, the current situation with SatNet being at the same level as CASC, CASIC, the telcos, etc., means that it should, at least in theory, have a lot more freedom of choice in its sourcing options.
3) Long March 6 launches a Batch of 9 Smallsats into Orbit, many payloads of interest
On April 27th, China launched an impressive launch share mission on-board a Long March 6, putting 9 satellites into orbit. These satellites were:
- Qilu-1 and Qilu-4. Qilu-1 is a SAR satellite. Qilu-4 on the other hand is a high-resolution panchromatic EO satellite .
- Foshan-1 is a high res panchromatic EO satellite meant to be a technology verification platform of the Foshan-based Jihua Laboratory.
- Zhong’an Guotong-1 satellite (also called Hangsheng-1)
- Guodian Gaoke’s Tianqi-9 IoT satellite, developed by ASES Space.
- Origin Space’s NEO-1: a technology verification satellite, meant to trial the capture of a small celestial body and various orbital maneuvers.
- Golden Bauhinia-1-01 and -02 are two remote sensing satellites.
- Taijing-2 satellite, manufactued by Minospace, will be used primarily for remote sensing, and is the third satellite launched to be based on the MN-50 platform.
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