China is continuing to boost its options for launching small satellites with a new rocket called the Smart Dragon 3, which is expected to fly for the first time soon.
Smart Dragon 3, also known as Jielong 3, last week successfully passed payload fairing separation tests and has now entered the flight test phase for its first mission, according to its developer, China Rocket Co. Ltd.
Smart Dragon 3 will be capable of sending 3,300 pounds (1,500 kilograms) of payload to a 310-mile-high (500 kilometers) sun synchronous orbit.
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The "cost-effective and highly adaptable" rocket will also be capable of launching up to 20 satellites at a time, according to Chinese state media outlet Xinhua.
China Rocket Co. Ltd. is a spinoff from the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), and the four-stage solid-propellant Smart Dragon 3 will be used to launch satellites for commercial customers.
Curiously, the rocket resembles in both appearance and capabilities the recently debuted Lijian 1 rocket, from CAS Space, which sent six satellites into orbit with its first flight on July 27. The pair are the most powerful solid rockets for orbital launches that China has developed so far.
China Rocket's parent company CALT is one of two major launch vehicle makers under the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country's main space contractor.
CALT developed the Long March 11 solid rocket, which debuted in 2015 and has now launched 13 times — all successfully — from both land and sea.
Galactic Energy and iSpace are two among a number of private Chinese firms that also operate solid rockets for launching commercial satellites, while Expace, a spinoff from another big Chinese defense contractor, CASIC, operates the Kuaizhou solid rocket series.
"It seems to me there is a clear belief that these new vehicles, because of their inherent characteristics as solid-fueled launchers, will reply to important needs of China's and international space sectors," Tomas Hrozensky, a researcher at the European Space Policy Institute, told SpaceNews in March.
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