The Chinese finally opened their 2014 campaign with the launch of a Shijian-11 class satellite. A Chang Zheng 2C (Long March 2C) rocket lofted a mysterious satellite – understood to be part of the Shijian-11 series of early warning satellites - from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center’s 603 launch pad at the LC43 launch complex at 02:46 UTC.
This is the sixth in a series of satellites that – according to the Chinese media – are only known to be “experimental satellites” developed by the DongFangHong Satellite Company of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.
As with the previous Shijian-11 satellites, the true mission of Shijian 11-06 was not revealed by the Chinese authorities. However, some observers noted that the Shijian-11 series could be related to a constellation of operational early warning satellites.
‘Shijian’ means ‘Practice’ and this series of satellites have been used in a variety of configurations and missions for scientific research and technological experiments.
Shijian 11-06 will probably take the place of the first satellite in the series, a spacecraft that was launched almost five years ago.
That first Shijian-11 satellite (36088 2009-061A) was launched at 02:45 UTC on November 12, 2009 by the Long March-2C (Y21) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. This was followed by the second satellite, ShiJian 11-03 (37730 2011-030A), which was lofted into orbit at 04:28 UTC on July 6, 2011, once again by the Long March-2C (Y25) and also from Jiuquan.
Shijian 11-02 (37765 2011-039A) was the third satellite, launched at 07:42 UTC on July 29, 2011 from Jiuquan by the Long March-2C (Y24) launch vehicle. Shijian 11-04 was lost the following August 18 on a rare Long March-2C mishap, although Shijian 11-05 (39202 2013-035A) was successfully launched on July 15, 2013 also by a Long March-2C (Y23) out of Jiuquan.
All satellites operate in typical 705 by 690 km, 98.1 degrees orbits.
The Chang Zheng 2C (Long March 2C) is a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) launch vehicle derived from DF-5 ICBM. It can be launched from either the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center or the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.
The rocket is a two stage hypergolic launch vehicle with a total length of 35.15 meters, a diameter of 3.35 meters and a total mass of 192,000 kg. The first stage is equipped with four YF-20A engines. Is has a length of 20.52 meters and a burn time of 122 seconds.
The second stage is equipped with one YF-22A engine, and has a length of 7.50 meters with a burn time of 130 seconds.
This launch was the 202nd Chinese orbital launch and the 201st launch of the Long March launch vehicle family. It was also the 64th orbital launch from the Jiuquan Satellite launch Center.
The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, also known as the Shuang Cheng Tze launch center, was the first Chinese satellite launch center.
The site includes a Technical Center, two Launch Complexes, Mission Command and Control Center, Launch Control Center, propellant fueling systems, tracking and communication systems, gas supply systems, weather forecast systems, and logistic support systems.
Jiuquan was originally used to launch scientific and recoverable satellites into medium or low earth orbits at high inclinations.
The 603 Launch Platform for unmanned satellite launches is part of the Launch Complex 43 that also includes the 912 Launch Pad for the manned program. Apart of the launch pads, the launch complex has a technical center where take place the preparations of the launch vehicle and spacecraft.
The technical center is composed of the launch vehicle processing and vertical assembly building, spacecraft processing buildings, solid rocket motor processing building, buildings for liquid-propellant storage and processing and the launch control center.
Although China have taken three months to launch their first satellite of 2014, the pace will soon pick up, with at least 18 launches expected throughout the remainder of the year.