A Closer Look at Chinese Launch Activities in 2012

China was in second place in 2012 in terms of both launches (19) and payloads orbited (30). That record put it just behind Russia and ahead of the United States. One of those launches involved a three-person crew sent to the Tiangong-1 space station.

The following look at Chinese launch activities is excerpted from the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation’s new report, “The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2012.” The excerpt includes a summary of 2012 launch activities, closer looks at the Long March 2 and 3 rockets, and a summary of the Long March 5, 6 and 7 launch vehicles now under development.

China Launch Activities in 2012

China conducted 19 orbital launches, including 2 commercial launches, in 2012—the same number as in 2011. Nine launches were conducted from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, five from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, and five from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. Table 31 summarizes 2012
Chinese launch activity by vehicle. More details on Chinese launches are below.

  • Nine launches were for China’s military. These launches deployed five Beidou navigation satellites, five Yaogan remote sensing satellites, three scientific and development satellites, and one communications satellite, Chinasat 2A.
  • Six launches were for China’s civil government agencies. One was a human misson: the Shenzhou 9 vehicle launched three crew, including China’s first female astronaut, and docked for the first time with the Tiangong 1 space module. The other five civil launches deployed satellites, including one meteorological satellite, three remote sensing satellites, and one communications satellite for CAST. A communications microsatellite, Vesselsat 2, for ORBCOMM was launched as a piggyback payload co-manifesting with one of the three remote sensing satellites (Ziyuan 3).
  • Two launches were commercial. One launch deployed the APSTAR 7 satellite for APT Satellite Holdings Ltd. of Hong Kong. The second commercial launch deployed the Gökturk-2 satellite for Turkey’s Ministry of Defense.
  • One non-commercial launch deployed the VRSS 1 satellite built by China for Venezuela, and another non-commercial launch deployed APSTAR 7B, the second satellite for APT Satellite Holdings Ltd. APSTAR 7B was originally ordered as a back-up to APSTAR 7. It was transferred to the Chinese Government and will be operated as Chinasat 12.


Editor’s Note: You will note that Chinese rockets have been extremely reliable over the past decade. They have experienced only 1 failure in 109 launches, which is a 99.08 percent success rate. It is a remarkable figure given how many launches have been done.

A Closer Look: Long March 2 and 3

Long March 2C. (Credit: CGWIC)
Long March 2C. (Credit: CGWIC)

CGWIC: Long March 2

The Long March 2 is a small-class vehicle designed to address LEO and sunsynchronous orbit (SSO) missions. The two- to three-stage vehicle is built by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) and marketed by China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC). Both organizations are subsidiaries of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The Long March 2C is available to commercial clients, and although the Long March 2D is not marketed commercially, a contract signed in 2012 indicates it is also commercially available.

The Long March 2D consists of two stages, while the Long March 2C features an upper stage. The first stage is powered by the YF-21C engine and the second stage by a YF-24 engine. The third stage, if used, is a solid motor designated 2804. A payload adapter and fairing complete the vehicle system. The Long March 2C has successfully flown 32 times since its introduction in 1975. The vehicle can launch from the Jiuquan, Taiyuan, and Xichang sites.

The Long March 2D has flown 11 times since 1992, each time successfully. It typically launches from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, but in 2014, the vehicle will launch from Xichang for the first time.

Long March 2: 2012 Highlights

In December, a Long March 2D successfully launched Gokturk-2, an Earth observation satellite for the Turkish military. In August, CGWIC signed a contract with the Spain-based Barcelona Moon Team for a Long March 2D flight expected in 2014 from Xichang. The payload will be a lunar rover in a bid to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

Long March 2c


CGWIC: Long March 3A

Long March 3B. (Credit: CGWIC)
Long March 3B. (Credit: CGWIC)

The Long March 3A is a modified version of the original Long March 3 vehicle, which was introduced in 1984 and is now discontinued. CGWIC markets the Long March 3A vehicle family for commercial use. Development and manufacturing of the Long March 3A vehicles are shared between the China Academy of Launch Vehicles (CALT) and SAST.

There are four versions of the three-stage Long March 3A. The Long March 3A consists of a core stage powered by four YF-21C engines, a second stage powered by a YF-24E engine, and a third stage powered by a YF-75 engine. The vehicle is topped with a payload adapter and fairing. The Long March 3B and Long March 3BE have the same core stage powered by four YF-21C engines, the same second stage powered by a YF-24E engine, and the same third stage powered by a YF-75 engine. The difference between the two is the type of liquid rocket boosters they use. The Long March 3C is the same as the Long March 3B, but with two liquid rocket boosters instead of four. A selection of four payload fairings is offered for all variants.

The Long March 3A vehicles launch from LC-2 or LC-3 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. The Long March 3A has successfully launched 23 times since 1994. The Long March 3B has launched 10 times (with 2 failures), and the Long March 3BE has launched 13 times successfully. The Long March 3C has launched 10 times successfully since it was introduced in 2008.

Long March 3A: 2012 Highlights

Nine Long March 3 missions launched in 2012. The one commercial launch carried ApStar 7 to a geosynchronous orbit (GEO) in March. CGWIC signed several contracts in 2012, including two that will use the Long March 3B to send CongoSat-01 and an APT satellite to GTO.

Long March 3


Future Chinese Launch Vehicles

Names: Long March 5, 6 and 7

Manufacturers: China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT)
and Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST)

Year of Introduction: 2014

Description: The newest generation of Long March vehicles will feature several variants based on interchangeable liquid-fueled stages.

The Long March 5 is a heavy-lift version featuring a core stage and combinations of strap-on boosters based on the cores of Long March 6 or 7. It will launch from the new Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island.

The Long March 6 is a three-stage, small-class vehicle. The first stage of this vehicle will be an optional strap-on liquid stage for the Long March 7.

The Long March 7 is a three-stage, medium-class vehicle featuring a core first stage and optional strap-on liquid boosters based on the Long March 6. It will likely replace the Long March 2F for human missions.