China now has a new launch service provider and a big, new flight-proven rocket.
The four-stage Lijian 1 rocket, also referred to as ZK-1A, lifted from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 12:12 a.m. EDT (0412 GMT; 12:12 p.m. local time) on July 27, carrying six satellites into orbit on its debut flight.
The 100-foot-tall (30 meters) rocket — China's largest solid-fueled launch vehicle — was developed by CAS Space, a spinoff from the state-owned Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The mission was CAS Space’s first launch, but the firm also has plans for larger rockets, as well as a familiar-looking concept for suborbital space tourism.
The main payload for the launch was the 1,140-pound (640 kilograms) Space New Technology Experimental Satellite (SATech (opens in new tab)), which carries 15 payloads for science experiments and technology verification. Goals include solar, Earth and infrared observation, and a hyperspectral camera and X-ray telescope are among the instruments. The satellite was developed by the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites under CAS.
Another satellite, called Jinan 1, will conduct key distribution experiments in low Earth orbit after a month of testing, according to the South China Morning Post (opens in new tab). China launched the pioneering Mozi quantum science satellite in 2016, but Jinan 1, at around one-sixth the mass of Mozi, seeks to prove low-cost, miniaturized quantum key distribution (QKD) technology with the new test.
The launch also carried four other small spacecraft, including a spherical atmospheric density detection test satellite, a pair of satellites for testing electromagnetic assembly mechanisms in orbit and the Nanyue Science Satellite, which will be used for science popularization.
China has conducted 29 orbital launches in 2022 as of early August. The Lijian 1 launch is one of just three that did not rely on Long March rockets from China’s main space contractor, CASC.