February 25, 2024

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China Launches New Data Relay Satellite

The Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) launched their fifth Tianlian 1 series tracking data and relay communications satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in central China. The Long March 3C/E launch vehicle carrying the spacecraft lifted off from its launch pad at Xichang.

China’s self-developed Tianlian relay satellites are mainly to provide data relay, measurement and control services for China’s manned spacecraft, space labs and space stations. They also offer data relay services for the country’s medium- and low-Earth orbiting resources satellites, as well as measurement and control support for spacecraft launches.

The Long March 3C/E lifted off from Launch Complex 2 at Xichang, with the rocket’s first stage providing the 2,400 kg payload with approximately 2,960 kN of trust from its four Y4-21C engines. An extra 740 kN of trust was provided by the twin side-mounted YF-25 engine powered boosters attached to the side of the first stage.

The rocket’s second stage began its 185-second burn two and a half minutes into the flight. The stage’s combination of one YF-24E engine and four YF-23C vernier thrusters provided the spacecraft with around 800 kN of thrust, boosting the Tianlian satellite until the beginning of the third stage burn, which placed the spacecraft into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

The carrier rocket placed the spacecraft into a 200 km by 41,991 km Geostationary Transfer Orbit at an inclination of 17.5 degrees. The Tianlian spacecraft will occupy this orbit as it slowly makes its way into its geostationary orbit above Earth. The Chinese National Space Agency (CNSA) has not announced what location above Earth the spacecraft will be placed.

Tianlian 1-05 is the fifth in China’s series of Tianlian Tracking Data Relay Satellites, a series of communications satellites placed in geostationary orbit, operating together to provide communications coverage for Chinese spacecraft. Effectively, the Tianlian constellation is very similar to other data relay constellations, such as NASA’s Tracking Data Relay Satellite System (TDRSS) or the Russian Luch constellation. The Tianlian constellation has provided coverage for every Chinese crewed spaceflight since Shenzhou 7 in 2008.

Tianlian 1-05, like it’s four predecessors, is based on the Dongfanghong-3A (DFH-3A) satellite bus, which also served as the base spacecraft for the Chinese Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 lunar orbital missions. The Chinese space agency is also in the process of assembling a constellation of second-generation Tianlian satellites, known as the Tianlian 2 constellation, which began with the launch of Tianlian 2-01 on March 31 2019.

Currently, the Tianlian 2-01 spacecraft is working in conjunction with the Tianlian 1-03 and Tianlian 1-04 spacecraft to provide communications to and from the newly launched Chinese Space Station (CSS), which is currently being occupied by its first crew of three Taikonauts launched aboard China’s Shenzhou 12 mission last month.

According to the CNSA, the system has guaranteed clear and smooth communication between ground control and Chinese astronauts in space. Although it has been reported that there is a small communications gap when the CSS passes over Southern Africa. Tianlian 1-05 may be used to close this gap when the spacecraft becomes operational.

Recently, China has paid great attention to space technology applications, such as satellite applications. As reported by OpenGov Asia, A Chinese meteorological satellite, Fengyun-3E (FY-3E), will be the world’s first meteorological satellite in a dawn-dusk orbit. The satellite was designed and built by China’s aerospace company. The satellite has passed a factory review in Shanghai getting it one step closer to launching into space.

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