by Douglas Messier
A Kuaizhou 1A rocket failed to orbit the Jilin-1 Gaofen 02C optical remote-sensing satellite after liftoff from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China on Saturday afternoon.
The official Xinhua news agency attributed the failure to the “abnormal performance” of the launch vehicle. An investigation has commenced.
Kuaizhou 1A consists of three solid-fuel stages and a liquid-fuel upper stage. The rocket is capable of placing payloads weighing 200 kg into a 700 km sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) or 300 kg into low Earth orbit (LEO).
This was the first failure of the satellite launcher in 10 launch attempts dating back to January 2017. An earlier variant called Kuaizhou 1 flew successful on two occasions in 2013 and 2014.
A larger version of the booster called Kuaizhou 11 failed during its maiden launch on July 10. The rocket is capable of placing 1,000 kg into a 700 km SSO or 1,500 kg into LEO.
Kuaizhou 1A and Kuauzhou 11 are rapid response rockets derived from intercontinental ballistic missiles that are capable of placing satellites into orbit on short notice. Launches are managed by ExPace, a commercial subsidiary of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.
The failure came only hours after the failure of Astra’s Rocket 3.1 failed to reach orbit after launch from the Pacific Spaceport Complex — Alaska on Kodiak Island. The booster’s first stage failed on Astra’s first attempt to reach orbit.
China has experienced four launch failures this year. The Long March 7A booster failed on its maiden flight on March 16. A Long March 3B rocket failed on April 9, destroying Indonesia’s Palapa-N1 communications satellite.
There have been eight launch failures worldwide in 2020. Virgin Orbit’s LauncherOne failed on its maiden flight on May 25. Rocket Lab lost an Electron rocket on the booster’s 13th flight on July 4. And Iran’s Simorgh booster failed on Feb. 9.