Private Chinese rocket reaches orbit 2 years after test-flight failure (video)

A private Chinese solid rocket has conducted its first successful launch, two years after failing its first test flight.

A Kuaizhou 11 rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 8:15 p.m. EST on Dec. 6 (0115 GMT or 9:15 a.m. local time on Wednesday, Dec. 7), sending the VHF Data Exchange System (VDES) test satellite into orbit. 

The launcher is operated by Expace, a commercial spinoff from the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), a state-owned defense giant.

Related: The latest news about China's space program

Liftoff of the second Kuaizhou 11 rocket from Jiuquan, northwest China, on Dec. 7 local time, 2022.

Liftoff of the second Kuaizhou 11 rocket from Jiuquan, northwest China, on Dec. 7 local time, 2022. (Image credit: CASIC)

The satellite was later tracked in a roughly 463-mile-high (745 kilometers) sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) by the U.S. Space Force's 18th Space Defense Squadron as part of its space domain awareness activities.

The satellite carries VDES and automatic identification system (AIS) payloads for maritime-related uses and was developed by CASIC-owned Aerospace Xingyun Technology Co., Ltd., as part of plans for its "Xingyun (opens in new tab)" constellation.

The Kuaizhou 11 rocket can carry 2,220 pounds (1000 kilograms) of payload to SSO or up to 3,300 pounds (1500 kg) to low Earth orbit, making it five times more powerful than the smaller Kuaizhou 1A

The first Kuaizhou 11 launch took place in July 2020 but ended in failure. Expace also suffered an explosion during testing (opens in new tab) at the Jiuquan spaceport, which may have been a factor in the two-year grounding of the rocket.

The mission was China's 57th launch of 2022, most of which have been performed by China's main space contractor CASC, including a number of missions to the country's Tiangong space station.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for Space.com in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI (opens in new tab).