Featured Image Credit: Wang Jiangbo
Lift Off Time
September 24, 2022 – 22:55 UTC
September 25, 2022 – 06:36 BJT
Shiyan 14 & Shiyan 15
(What rocket company launched it?)
ExPace (part of CASIC — China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation)
(Who paid for this?)
509th Institute of SAST — Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology
Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China
Unknown, but up to ~235 kg (~520 lb)
Where did the satellite go?
~500 km Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at ~97.5 degrees
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
No, the Kuaizhou-1A is not capable of booster recovery
Where did the first stage land?
It crash-landed in the remote countryside
Did they attempt to recover the fairings?
No, the Kuaizhou-1A is not capable of fairing recovery
Were these fairings new?
This was the:
– 18th launch of a Kuaizhou-1A rocket
– 122th orbital launch attempt of 2022 (118th successful)
Where to watch
How Did It Go?
ExSpace successfully launched a Kuaizhou-1A rocket carrying the experimental satellites Shiyan 14 and Shiyan 15. These two were injected into a Sun-synchronous orbit — at approximately 500 km in altitude and about 97.5 degrees inclination — for the Chinese SAST. Lift-off took place from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on September 24, 2022, 22:55 UTC.
What Are The Shiyan Payloads?
China’s aerospace industry has a number of prolific programs aimed at improving applied technologies in this field. Shiyan satellites are a series of spacecraft which certainly play a role in the mentioned search for progress. This particular fact is highlighted by the Chinese word used for their name — Shiyan, or SY for short — which, some experts point out, should be translated as “pilot” or “trial.” However, these satellites are more commonly mentioned as “experiment,” a more widely used translation.
Other series aiming to achieve similar goals are the Shijian, or SJ — best practice, put into practice — and the Chuangxin, or CX — innovation. Both SJ and SY payloads have been contributing for decades now to the China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS). Apparently, though, a distinction can be made between those last two, as the Shijian sats have favored more radar and infrared payloads. On the other hand, Shiyan have been more focused on Earth-observation satellites.
In order to further differentiate the SY from the SJ, the latter are probably testing, or putting into practice, more mature technologies. These could imply a lower failure ratio, when compared to the Shiyan more experimental spacecraft. Similarly, the Chuangxin might also find themselves in an early condition.
Not very much has been disclosed about this one, except that it is a very small satellite — probably a microsatellite, that is: one with a mass between 10 kg to 100 kg — that will be used for scientific research through experimentation, and validation of new technologies, among other tasks.
In this case, the SY-15 has been developed by the 509th Institute of the Chinese SAST. During 2022, they sent to orbit another 12 satellites, and overall the number rises to a total of 94 spacecraft. Moreover, although it is said to be a microsatellite, it will be tasked with land surveying, city planning, and disaster monitoring and mitigation. This satellite is also testing new development procedures, including parallel development of more than one sat on the same platform. It focuses on innovation and versatility, through implementation of modular design, making use of mature off-the-shelf parts.
Once in orbit, it will be able to communicate with other satellites, profiting from global sensing networks. What is more, it will conduct satellite-ground joint experiments, which will strongly support its focus field of study.
Other Shiyan Launches
As previously mentioned, these satellites are part of a larger group of “pilot” payloads. In the following table you can find some other Shiyan spacecraft that were launched in the recent past.
DateLaunch VehicleMission NameApril 8, 2021 – 23:01 UTCLong March 4BShiyan 6-03November 24, 2021 – 23:41:00 UTCKuaizhou-1AShiyan 11December 23, 2021 – 10:12 UTCLong March 7AShiyan 12-01 & 02January 17, 2022 – 02:35 UTCLong March 2DShiyan 13List of the latest Shiyan launches
What Is The Kuaizhou-1A?
ExPace developed the Kuaizhou-1A, abbreviated KZ-1A, for its parent company, the Chinese CASIC — a state-owned missile manufacturer — to serve the commercial space launch market. Based on the two-stage DF-21 medium-range ballistic missile, this expendable four-stage small-lift launcher was conceived to put small satellites in low-Earth orbit. Each of its first three stages houses a solid propellant motor, while the fourth one is powered by a single liquid-fed engine.
Flight 18 Of The Kuaizhou-1A
Not much is known of this particular vehicle, but it was hinted that it could be the 14th of its kind. Typically, this is indicated by the serial number. In Chinese, this is indicated as “Yao 14” for this specific rocket, or the widely used short form Y14. As it can be seen, this Kuaizhou-1A’s fuselage received blue painting on its skin. Such livery had previously been observed for the Shiyan 11 and the Chuangxin 16 missions. These were demonstrations of quick-response satellites or launch capabilities.
On a different note, according to the flight restrictions — zones in the airspace where no one can fly — related to this launch, the second stage of this KZ-1A rocket would be dropped the farthest in this vehicle’s history, at 9,000 km from the launch site.
Description of the Kuaizhou-1A
“Kuai zhou” means “fast vessel,” signifying that the launch preparations only require six members and can be carried out in under 24 hours. First flying in 2017, It can lift up to 300 kg to a 500 km low-Earth orbit, or 250 kg into a 500 km Sun-Synchronous Orbit (SSO). Overall, the rocket is 20 m (~66 ft) tall with a maximum diameter of 1.4 m (~4 ft). At take-off, it has a mass of 30 t, and flies from a mobile transporter-erector vehicle, rather than a fixed launch pad.
The lowest part of the rocket has a mass of 16.6 t at take off, after which the solid motor burns for 65 s. Stage separation occurs 83 s into the flight when the vehicle is about 36 km in altitude.
This stage is shorter than the first one but not by much, with a mass of ~8.7 t, and a burn time of 62 seconds. Stage separation takes place 161 s into the flight.
Slightly slimmer than the first two, it is significantly shorter than the second stage. This one has a mass of ~3.2 t, and its motor burns for 55 s.
Being the only part of the rocket running on liquid propellant, it uses monomethylhydrazine (MMH) for fuel and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) as the oxidizer. After stage four shutdown, it coasts for about 8 s. This is so that the vehicle will have the appropriate angular velocities for correct payload deployment.
[s]1stSolid1.416.6239.82ndSolid1.48.7286.53rdSolid1.23.2290.64thLiquid1.2––Brief comparison of the Kuaizhou-1A’s stages
Typical Mission Timeline
Before launching, there are certain steps which are typically to be followed. During the countdown, this means different milestones have to be achieved without finding any issue, in order to be able to launch.
Time before launchProcedureT-240 minPrepare for launch; launch vehicle erectionT-200 minThe whole checking of the launch vehicleT-190 minSatellite test (The test is allocated 1 hour, but the time could be adjusted based on the actual situation)T-130 minInstall lattice ruddersT-95 minAimingT-70 minCorrection of guidance before launchT-25 minCommunication & Tracking System power-onT-15 minRecall satellite with GPS/BD2T-10 minDemolition of defend breeze blockT-9 min 30 secCommunication & Tracking System starts workT-9 min 30 secStart the flow of launchT-2 minControl System power switch-overT-1 minAutomatic ignition procedure start; engine gimbal check, safety control turning to internal powerT-0 secIgnitionTypical Pre-Launch Countdown Procedure (Credit: ExPace KZ-1A User’s Manual v1.1)
Once the rocket leaves the platform, it will follow a trajectory according to each particular mission. As a reference, this typical mission profile is a good guide to understanding the succession of events along the flight.
Rocket section adapted from Andy Law.