Com­mer­cial car­rier rocket Smart Dragon-1 makes maiden flight

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Ji­uquan: China’s new car­rier rocket Smart Dragon-1 (SD-1), de­signed for com­mer­cial use, made its maiden flight on Satur­day, send­ing three satellites into planned or­bit.

The rocket, de­vel­oped by the China Rocket Co Ltd af­fil­i­ated to the China Academy of Launch Ve­hi­cle Tech­nol­ogy (CALVT), blasted off from the Ji­uquan Satel­lite Launch Cen­tre in north­west China at 12:11pm (Bei­jing Time).

To be used for re­mote sens­ing ser­vices, com­mu­ni­ca­tion

The three satellites, re­spec­tively de­vel­oped by three Bei­jing-based com­pa­nies, will be used for re­mote sens­ing ser­vices, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­ter­net of Things.

Dif­fer­ent from the car­rier rock­ets of the Long March fam­ily, the new Dragon se­ries is de­vel­oped in a com­mer­cial mode to meet the mar­ket de­mand of launch­ing small com­mer­cial satellites, said Wang Xiao­jun, head of CALVT.

The SD-1, with a to­tal length of 19.5 me­tres, a di­ame­tre of 1.2 me­tres, and a take­off weight of about 23.1 tonnes, is a small-scale solid­pro­pel­lant car­rier rocket ca­pa­ble of send­ing 200 kg pay­loads to the so­lar syn­chro­nous or­bit at an al­ti­tude of 500km.

“It has the high­est car­ry­ing ef­fi­ciency among China’s cur­rent com­mer­cial solid-pro­pel­lant rock­ets,” said Gong Min, tech­ni­cal man­ager of the SD-1 pro­ject.

It took less than 18 months to de­velop SD-1, which is the short­est pe­riod to de­velop a new type of car­rier rocket in China.

In­tel­li­gent tech­nolo­gies are used to an­a­lyse the data of the rocket, which will help im­prove its ef­fi­ciency and ac­cu­racy, said Mr Gong.

The de­sign­ers of SD-1 have made ef­forts to lower the costs and im­prove the ef­fi­ciency and re­li­a­bil­ity of the rocket, said Mr Tang Ya­gang, pres­i­dent of the China Rocket Co. Ltd.

What SD-1 can do

One such rocket can be pro­duced in six months af­ter busi­ness agree­ments are signed with cus­tomers. Af­ter the rocket is trans­ported to the launch­ing cen­tre, the launch can be re­alised within 24 hours. The rocket can be used for launch­ing ei­ther sin­gle satel­lite or mul­ti­ple satellites at a time, ac­cord­ing to Tang.

Mr Tang said the com­pany mainly re­lies on so­cial fi­nanc­ing to de­velop SD-1 to lower its cost through com­pe­ti­tion. “Com­mer­cial launch­ing will have a vast mar­ket in the fields such as low-Earth or­bit In­ter­net mo­bile com­mu­ni­ca­tion and re­mote sens­ing,” Mr Tang said. The com­pany plans to com­plete five launches of SD-1 by the end of 2020.

More tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments

In ad­di­tion to the Smart Dragon solid-pro­pel­lant car­rier rock­ets, CALVT will also de­velop liq­uid­pro­pel­lant com­mer­cial rock­ets, which will have a higher car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity, ac­cord­ing to Mr Tang.

China suc­cess­fully tested the tech­nol­ogy that can ac­cu­rately con­trol the fall­ing of rocket re­mains dur­ing a launch on July 26, which laid the foun­da­tion for de­vel­op­ing re­us­able car­rier rock­ets. “We have stepped up the de­vel­op­ment of re­us­able launch­ing ve­hi­cles, which is ex­pected to be re­alised in the com­ing two to three years,” said Mr Tang.

China has ac­cel­er­ated the de­vel­op­ment of the com­mer­cial space in­dus­try.

Launch of the Smart Dragon-1.

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