China successfully deployed a set of Shiyan-12 testing satellites into the geosynchronous transfer orbit (GE0) on December 23 using a new-generation Long March 7A rocket. At 5:12 a.m. Eastern, the Long March 7A took off from the seaside Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, soaring into a broken hazy sky shortly after local twilight. The country’s major space contractor, CASC (China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation), reported launch success barely 40 minutes later, confirming the previously undisclosed passengers to be Shiyan-12 (02) and (01) satellites.

The Shiyan-12 satellites were created by CAST (China Academy of Space Technology), a CASC affiliate, for space environment investigations and related technical experiments. There were no other details supplied. Shiyan means “to try out” or “to put to the test.”

The Long March 7A rocket for Thursday’s dual satellite launch was 60.7 meters long and included an extended fairing, making it China’s largest rocket to date. The rocket has four side boosters as well as a diameter of about 3.35 meters. It has a payload capacity of up to 7 metric tons and can deliver it to GTO.

The launcher is based on the Long March 8, 7, 6 and 5 series’ innovative kerosene engine technologies. The Long March 7A’s initial launch failed in March of the year 2020, while the second went off without a hitch in March of this year. The failure occurred as a result of a lack of pressure when the first stage separated, resulting in engine failure.

Cargo spacecraft are launched to China’s space station using the standard Long March 7. The 7A contains a modified hydrolox stage from China’s existing workhorse rocket for GTO missions, the Long March 3B sequence.

The Long March 7A outperforms the Long March 3B, that can deploy 5.5 tons to GTO. It also overcomes the falling debris concerns of inland 3B deployments, and also the costs of preparations like evacuations and clean up, by deploying from the coast. By 2025, CASC wants to raise the cadence to 3-5 Long March 7A deployments per year. According to CALT (the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology), the launcher can also be utilized for lunar as well as deep space missions.

China launched its 52nd orbital mission of the year on Thursday. The previous Chinese national record for deployments in a calendar year was 39, which was set in 2018 and 2020.

The great bulk of the launches were carried out by CASC. CASIC, a sister state-owned corporation, launched 4 Kuaizhou-1A light-lift solid rockets, one of which failed, with private companies iSpace (two failures) as well as Galactic Energy (one effective Ceres-1 release) also taking part. Before the end of 2021, additional Long March rocket deployments from Jiuquan, Taiyuan, Xichang, and a sea platform stationed at Haiyang’s new Eastern spaceport are still possible.

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