China Debuts Second New Small Rocket, Long March 11

China Debuts Second New Small Rocket, Long March 11

China debuted the Long March 11 rocket last night Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), just days after the first flight of another new rocket, Long March 6.   Long March 11 is solid-fueled, while Long March 6 is liquid.  Both are designed to launch microsatellites and the launch yesterday placed four of them in orbit, three of which will demonstrate formation flying.

China’s official news agency Xinhua announced that the launch of Long March 11, or Chang Zheng-11 (CZ-11), took place from the Jiuquan Space Launch Center near Chengdu at 9:41 am today, September 25, China Standard Time (9:41 pm yesterday EDT).

Xinhua said little about the payloads other than that they were four microsatellites.   The website has an extensive description of three of them that reportedly will demonstrate formation flying to “form a 150-m long solar coronagraph to study the Sun’s faint corona closer to the solar rim” than before.  Called Tianwang-1A, -1B and -1C, they were designed by a consortium of companies from China, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden.  The website reports that the fourth microsatellite is named Pujian-1, but no details of its mission were provided.

The launch comes just five days after the maiden launch of Long March 6, which Xinhua heralded as the first of a new generation of Chinese liquid-fueled rockets using environmentally-friendly propellant.  That rocket launches from a different space launch center, Taiyuan, near Bejiing. 

China also has the Kuaizhou-1 (KZ-1) rocket, with three solid-fuel stages and a liquid-fueled fourth stage (which is integrated with the satellite), designed to launch small satellites from Jiuquan.

Long March 6, Long March 11 and KZ-1 are all described as rapid-response launch vehicles for small satellites. KZ-1 was designed by the China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC), while Long March 6 and Long March 11 were designed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT).   There are technical differences among the rocket types that offer advantages or disadvantages depending on the mission, but some see competition between CASIC and CALT as the primary explanation for why there are two solid-fueled rockets in the same class.   Jonathan McDowell of Jonathan’s Space Report noted in a tweet that CALT has built liquid fueled rockets until now– Long March 11 is its first solid-fueled rocket.

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