China launches military communications satellite to orbit (video)

China's busy spaceflight year continues.

The nation launched its 38th orbital mission of 2022 on Tuesday (Sept. 13), sending the Zhongxing-1E satellite aloft atop a Long March 7A rocket. The launcher lifted off at 9:18 a.m. EDT (1318 GMT; 9:18 p.m. Beijing time) from the Wenchang Space Launch Site on the island of Hainan and successfully delivered its payload to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) as planned, Chinese space officials said.

Zhongxing-1E was built by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). China has said little about the spacecraft, describing it in general terms as a communications satellite

Related: China's Long March rocket family: History and photos

A Long March 7A rocket carrying the Zhongxing-1E satellite launches from China's Wenchang Space Launch Site on Sept. 13, 2022.

A Long March 7A rocket carrying the Zhongxing-1E communications satellite launches from China's Wenchang Space Launch Site on Sept. 13, 2022.   (Image credit: CCTV)

"The vague description of the satellite matches statements for earlier Zhongxing-1 series satellites," Andrew Jones reported for Space News. "The lack of information and images of the satellite suggests that the satellite series serves military customers."

The most recent satellite in the series, Zhongxing-1D, launched in November 2021 atop a Long March 3B rocket from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China, Jones wrote.

"The switch of launcher and spaceport for the Zhongxing-1E launch, along with wording in a CAST press release, suggests a larger, heavier satellite bus than earlier satellites," he wrote, noting that the Long March 3 is considerably less powerful than the 197-foot-tall (60 meters) Long March 7A. "The satellite was also transported by ship from Tianjin to Wenchang, whereas satellites are flown to Xichang."

But it's also possible, Jones wrote, that China is simply moving away from the Long March 3B and toward the 7A for launches to GTO. In addition to being less powerful than the 7A, the 3B is considerably older; it debuted in 1996, whereas the 7A's first successful flight occurred just last year.

China isn't alone in setting a breakneck launch pace this year. SpaceX has already conducted 41 orbital missions in 2022, most of them devoted to building out its huge Starlink broadband constellation.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook.  

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.