Building launch backlog in China


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The two launch failures in June and July experienced by China has forced an extended pause in rocket launches, resulting in an increasing launch backlog.

The main contractor for the Chinese space programme, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), had announced plans for a national record of close to 30 launches this year, but recent failures have halted progress, putting pressure on an increasingly intense schedule.

There have been no launches since the high profile failure of the second flight of China’s largest rocket, the Long March 5, on July 2. Preceding that, a Long March 3B, used for launches to geosynchronous and medium Earth orbits, left the Zhongxing-9A telecommunications satellite in a much lower than intended orbit. This partial failure has apparently hit the schedule for launches of China’s Beidou navigation satellites, while two more launch vehicles – the Long March 2D and 4C – also suffered issues last time out.

The Chinese launch calendar typically sees the vast majority of its activity in the second half of the year, and this will need to be the case once again to prevent a large mission backlog. China was looking to launch 6-8 new satellites for its own version of the GPS constellation, starting in July, but it is unclear if the first pair, Beidou-3M3 and Beidou-3M4, will be ready for launch from Xichang in mountainous Sichuan Province.

Right now China has only completed 7 launches in 2017. The article also notes that further launches might be delayed for political reasons:

With the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, a major political event that will see a once-every-five-years reshuffle of the country’s leadership, set for October, it is likely that unnecessary risks – particularly regarding a space programme regarded as a source of national pride and prestige – will be avoided.

What this article indicates is that China is undergoing the same kind of launch pressures experienced by Russia and SpaceX. Rocket science is hard, but the benefits are so great that it forces those involved to solve the problems. I expect we shall see China resume launches, at a fast pace, sometime after October.

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