China’s Rocket Launches Just Keep on Coming

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China’s Rocket Launches Are Happening at a Break-Neck Tempo. Can the Rest of the World Keep Up?

Just over 24 hours after its last “mystery” satellite launch (the first of 2020), China launched another commercial satellite late last night (Wednesday). The Kuaizhou-1A solid launch vehicle carried a Yinhe-1 commercial 5G satellite into low earth orbit just after 10:02 pm EST. Unlike many of China’s rocket launches of late, this one blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. The first launch of 2020 and several previous launches took place at the controversial Xichang Space Center in the southwest province of Sichuan. 

The controversy surrounding Xichang centers on the issue of toxic debris falling on populated areas during launches. Just a few months ago, burning rocket parts and deadly gasses fell on a small settlement downrange of the launch center, causing an incredible amount of damage. And Xichang’s seen more than its share of such incidents in the past.

Watch the Latest of China’s Rocket Launches

Overall, the Chinese plan to send up more than 40 satellite launches this year, and commercial launches could bring that number over 50. With such a high operations tempo, how are we to ensure that China’s satellite launches aren’t endangering civilians? And who’s responsibility is it?

Not All Launchpads Are Created Equal

You can see the difference in the areas surrounding the two launchpads in the photo below:

Graphic illustrating the population density around Jiuquan vs Xichang satellite launch centers

Graphic illustrating the population density around Jiuquan vs Xichang satellite launch centers

Clearly Jiuquan is the safer launch site. But with such ambitious plans, China doesn’t appear to want to stop using Xichang. By way of comparison, the United States launches from coastal areas—like… you know… Cape Canaveral—specifically so that any harmful debris will land in the ocean rather than on populated areas. Most other space-faring countries operate the same way, but China gon’ be China, I guess.

About This Launch…

The version of the Kuaizhou-1A rocket used in this mission fired up for the eighth time yesterday. Though, the rockets themselves are not reusable the way SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is, for example. However, they’re relatively inexpensive to produce, which makes them competitive with other commercial satellite delivery options. 

This particular satellite, the GS-SparkSat-03, is a commercial communications satellite that will provide 5G internet service. 

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Brandon Humphreys

Brandon Humphreys

I'm a wizard. I write stuff and it goes from my head into yours - Magic! Apart from that, I am the Senior Editor for Space Porn, a veteran, a rock guitarist, and a teacher.

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