China launches Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F remote sensing satellite via Kuaizhou 1A

China’s small Kuaizhou 1A rocket has launched the latest satellite in the Jilin-1 Earth-imaging constellation… The post China launches Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F remote sensing satellite via Kuaizhou 1A appeared first on

China launches Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F remote sensing satellite via Kuaizhou 1A

China’s small Kuaizhou 1A rocket has launched the latest satellite in the Jilin-1 Earth-imaging constellation Wednesday, in a low-key mission out of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. Kuaizhou lifted off at 06:19 UTC (14:19 Beijing time), deploying its payload into a sun-synchronous orbit.

Wednesday’s launch carried the Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F satellite, continuing deployment of the commercial remote sensing satellite network under development by the Chang Guang Satellite Technology Corporation. Gaofen, meaning “high resolution,” signifies the satellite’s role within the wider Jilin-1 system and is not to be confused with the series of larger imaging satellites of the same name that are operated by the Chinese government.

The Jilin-1 constellation, which is expected to consist of up to 138 satellites by the end of the decade, contains different types of satellites to perform different roles. In addition to the Gaofen satellites’ high-resolution imaging mission, other satellites in the constellation provide video capture, wider-area, and multi-spectral imaging.

Kuaizhou-1A ascends from Jiuquan. (Credit: CCTV)

Deployment of Jilin-1 began with a Chang Zheng 2D launch in October 2015 which carried the first four satellites. These included the Jilin-1 Lingqiao Yanzheng technology demonstrator, also known as the Smart Verification Satellite or Jilin-1LQ, an optical imaging satellite, Jilin-1 Guangxe-A, and a pair of Jilin-1 Shipin video-recording satellites. In the six years since, over thirty satellites have been deployed.

Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F Updates
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  • The Gaofen part of the constellation consists of two series of spacecraft: Gaofen-02 and Gaofen-03. The Gaofen-02 satellites, including the one deployed by Tuesday’s launch, are larger than their Gaofen-03 counterparts, with masses a little under 250 kilograms. Equipped with a push broom imager, Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F will be able to image the Earth at resolutions better than 0.75 meters in panchromatic mode, capturing light at wavelengths between 450 and 700 nanometres. It can also operate in multi-spectral mode across four optical and near-infrared channels, with a resolution of about three meters.

    Wednesday’s launch marks the sixth flight of a Jilin-1 Gaofen-02 satellite, following the successful deployment of Jilin-1 Gaofen-02D last month. Both the 02C and 02E satellites were lost in launch failures last year – 02C aboard a Kuaizhou 1A rocket and 02E on the maiden flight of the larger Kuaizhou 11. Thirteen of the smaller Jilin-1 Gaofen-03 spacecraft are also in orbit.

    Like most of its predecessors, Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F rode to orbit aboard a Kuaizhou 1A rocket. The launch was coordinated by the ExPace Technology Corporation, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), and took place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC).

    A Jilin-1 Gaofen satellite in pre-launch processing

    Jiuquan, one of China’s four main launch sites, is located in the Gobi Desert about 200 kilometers northeast of the city of Jiuquan. The JSLC was the site of China’s first orbital launch in 1970 when a Chang Zheng 1 rocket orbited Dong Fang Hong I from what is now the facility’s north site. Today only the launch pads of the South Launch Site continue to be used for orbital missions, with two launch pads at Site 43 used by the large liquid-fuelled Chang Zheng rockets.

    Close to the Chang Zheng pads, Complex 43/95 houses launch facilities shared between several of China’s smaller solid-fuelled rockets including the Kuaizhou 1A. It was from one of these pads that Wednesday’s launch took place.

    The Kuaizhou 1A, or KZ-1A, is the smallest member of the family of Kuaizhou rockets that ExPace offers for commercial launches. Capable of placing an approximately 400-kilogram payload into low Earth orbit, this four-stage vehicle uses three solid-fueled stages with a small liquid-fueled upper stage to complete orbital insertion. It has been speculated that the rocket may be a derivative of the Dongfeng 21 missile which entered service with the People’s Liberation Army in 1991.

    Kuaizhou 1’s first launch likely took place in March 2012, when China conducted a mysterious sub-orbital launch out of Jiuquan. When the Kuaizhou made its first publicly announced – and orbital – launch in September 2013, the launch hazard areas lined up with that previous launch, indicating that it was likely a test flight of the new rocket. The first Kuaizhou 1A launched in January 2017, with the two rockets differing in that the Kuaizhou 1 is designed to launch payloads that are integrated into its upper stage, while the 1A deploys free-flying satellites.

    The Kuaizhou-1A launch vehicle prior to flight

    The name Kuaizhou, meaning “Quick Vessel”, reflects its designers’ ambitions of it being a quick-reaction launch vehicle, able to put satellites into orbit at short notice if required. To highlight one aspect of its quick-turnaround capability, two launches were staged on the same day, six hours apart, out of the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in December 2019.

    Tuesday’s launch marked the fifteenth flight of the KZ-1 rocket overall, its fourteenth orbital launch, and the thirteenth flight of the KZ-1A variant. All but one of Kuaizhou’s previous launches have been successful – the exception being the Jilin-1 Gaofen-02C launch last year when the rocket is believed to have suffered an upper stage issue and failed to reach orbit. Tuesday’s launch is the second since the failure, with the previous KZ-1A mission at the end of September marking the rocket’s return to flight.

    Once assembled in a horizontal integration building, Kuaizhou requires minimal launch infrastructure at the pad itself, with a mobile launcher transporting, erecting, and firing the rocket. Kuaizhou’s solid-fueled first, second, and third stages burned in sequence to propel Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F towards orbit, with the satellite enclosed within the rocket’s payload fairing during the early stages of flight. This fairing separated shortly after reaching space, at which point the vehicle had cleared the atmosphere and its protection was no longer required.

    Following third stage burnout, Kuaizhou’s fourth stage took over. Burning liquid propellants, this stage was used to inject the payload precisely into its planned 535-kilometer sun-synchronous orbit. With orbital insertion completed, Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F separated to begin its own mission.

    (Lead photo: Kuaizhou-1A lifts off with Jilin-1 Gaofen-02F. Credit: CCTV)

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    SpaceX given green light to launch Crew-3 mission to ISS, Crew-2’s return date set

    Having completed the Flight Readiness Review for the United States Crew Vehicle 3 (USCV-3) mission,… The post SpaceX given green light to launch Crew-3 mission to ISS, Crew-2’s return date set appeared first on

    SpaceX given green light to launch Crew-3 mission to ISS, Crew-2’s return date set

    Having completed the Flight Readiness Review for the United States Crew Vehicle 3 (USCV-3) mission, NASA, ESA, JAXA, and SpaceX teams have given the green light for Crew-3 to launch on October 31 at 02:21 EDT (06:21 UTC) and for Crew-2 to return to Earth no earlier than November 4. 

    Crew-3 will mark SpaceX’s fifth crewed mission and their third operational crew flight to the International Space Station (ISS). If this launch window is met, the crew will dock with the ISS on November 1 at 00:10 EDT (04:10 UTC).

    Flight Readiness Review

    Crew-3 is the eighth Crew Dragon mission, following the Pad Abort Test, DM-1, In-Flight Abort, DM-2, Crew-1, Crew-2, and Inspiration4 missions. Crew-3 will launch NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn, and Kayla Barron along with ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. The crew will remain on the ISS for roughly six months — when the Crew-4 astronauts will replace them.

    Originating with NASA during the Space Shuttle era, the FRR, or Flight Readiness Review, is the most important “go” for launch decision point before the countdown. It has now become an industry standard. For the commercial crew program, NASA mandates that an FRR involving all entities be conducted.

    The review started early on Monday morning, October 25, with the Crew-3 astronauts. NASA started the tradition of opening all FRRs with the crew, helping to ensure that no corners will be cut during the process. As Crew-3 is already SpaceX’s fifth crewed mission, NASA and SpaceX have emphasized the culture of learning from flights, going as far as saying “don’t ever assume you know what’s going to happen with the vehicle.” These processes help ensure that teams do not get complacent and that the missions are as safe as possible.

    The Crew-3 astronauts during emergency launch pad evacuation training at the Kennedy Space Center in mid-2021. Left to right: Raja Chari, Kayla Barron, Matthias Maurer, and Thomas Marshburn. (Credit: SpaceX)

    After the review, teams unanimously polled “go” to launch to the ISS, where the Crew Dragon Endurance will dock to the forward port at IDA-2 on the Harmony module. 

    Crew-3 UPDATES
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  • Despite polling “go”, there is one open item that must be closed out before Crew-3 can launch. During the Inspiration4 mission, a urine tube came unglued from the waste tank, which allowed urine to get into the fan system. While this had no impact on the Inspiration4 crew, teams have addressed the problem.

    SpaceX welded the tube to the waste tank so it can no longer disconnect. SpaceX has completed all structural analysis and testing of the new design and has sent the data to NASA, which still has to complete its review; once they deem the fix as safe, they will close out the issue.

    The fact that teams polled “go” even with this open item is a show of confidence in the reviews so far and an indication that this issue will be fully wrapped up at the L-2 day Launch Readiness Review.

    After noticing this problem on Inspiration4, SpaceX and NASA teams decided to check the Crew-2 Dragon, Endeavour. They found that that urine tube had also disconnected on  and had leaked under the floor. However, this problem had not been noticed earlier as Crew-2 only relies on the Waste Management System (WMS) on-board Dragon during free-flight, using the station’s WMS during all other portions of the mission. However, as Inspiration4 used Dragon’s WMS for all three days of its flight, the problem was more apparent.

    To ensure the leaked urine doesn’t endanger the Crew-2 astronauts during reentry, SpaceX conducted a large number of tests and analyses on the ground, including placing Oxone urine (Oxone is placed in urine aboard Dragon to reduce ammonia) next to the aluminum that is used on Dragon in a controlled environment to mimic the conditions aboard the ISS. 

    SpaceX and NASA found that the contamination posed no risk to the crew, in large part due to the corrosion-resistant aluminum used on Dragon.

    Consistent with the culture of “learn from flying,” several other changes have been made to Crew Dragon Endurance for this mission; in the highly unlikely event of all three of Dragon’s flight computers failing during reentry, Dragon now has a fourth fully redundant computer that can control the vehicle. This ensures that landing success and accuracy remain the same under extreme failure scenarios, further increasing Crew Dragon’s safety.

    SpaceX has also made minor changes to the stitching on Dragon’s drogue parachutes. During post-flight inspections of Crew Dragon  after Crew-1, teams noticed localized ribbon damage due to a debris strike on one of the drogue parachutes. The new stitching should further reinforce the parachute lines.

    Additionally, Crew Dragon Endurance will refly Dragon’s nose cone for the first time, debut additional cleaning processes to reduce potential FOD (Foreign Object Debris), return to an earlier propulsion system seal which performed better than a newer design, debut a software change to mitigate radiation interference on communications, and showcase enhanced docking procedures to reduce interference while docking to the ISS.

    With the FRR milestone passed, SpaceX will now conduct a static fire of the Falcon 9 on Wednesday around 23:00 EDT (03:00 UTC on Thursday). The day after, the crew will conduct the dry dress rehearsal.

    Crew-3 Launch

    The Crew-3 mission will launch in a brand new capsule, C210 Endurance, and on a flight-proven Falcon 9 Block 5, B1067-2. B1067 has flown one previous time, on the CRS-22 mission which launched on June 3, 2021.

    Falcon 9 and Dragon were integrated on October 25 inside the packed Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF) at LC-39A. In addition to the Falcon 9 and Dragon, the HIF contains three Falcon Heavy cores: B1064, B1065, and B1066, which will be used on the upcoming USSF-44 mission.

    The rocket’s static fire, which will take the rocket through an entire countdown, fueling, and pressurization sequence up until the moment of liftoff, will not take place with the crew onboard.

    Final crew practice will instead take place the day after the static fire when SpaceX will conduct the dry dress rehearsal. As the name implies, the dry dress rehearsal is a full run-through of launch-day operations, done without fueling the rocket, to ensure the astronauts and the launch team are ready for the events on launch day.

    The Crew-3 mission is currently set to launch on October 31 at 02:21 EDT (06:21 UTC). The launch has an instantaneous window.

    The Falcon 9 first stage burn will last approximately two and a half minutes. The stages will then separate before the MVacD engine ignites. The second stage will then burn for roughly six minutes and 10 seconds before shutting down.

    Meanwhile, B1067-2 will conduct two burns: a reentry burn and a landing burn. These burns will bring the Falcon 9 first stage to a soft touch down on one of SpaceX’s autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS) roughly 540 km offshore.

    After second engine cut-off, Dragon will stay attached to the second stage for approximately three minutes to check its attitude and rotation rates and allow the vehicle’s remaining propellants to settle in the second stage tanks.

    If everything is nominal, Dragon will then be deployed to perform several phasing burns to raise its orbital altitude to that of the ISS. Dragon will then dock to the station roughly 22 hours after launch, at 00:10 EDT (04:10 UTC) on Monday, November 1.

    (Lead image: Crew Dragon Endurance arrives in the HIF at LC-39A for integration to the Falcon 9 rocket ahead of the Crew-3 mission. Credit: SpaceX)

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