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Chinese Space Venture Sets Record with 26-Satellite Launch Amid Pursuit of US Dominance

A recent feat in Chinese commercial space exploration saw the successful second launch of the Lijian-1 (Kinetica-1) solid-propellant launch vehicle, carrying an impressive load of 26 satellites into earth orbit, setting a new national record.

On June 7th, the Jiuquan Cosmodrome, nestled on the fringes of the north-western Gobi Desert, set the stage for Lijian-1’s second orbital voyage. Following an hour after take-off, confirmation of the flight’s success was relayed by controllers. The mission’s ambitious target was to deposit a heavy payload of 26 satellites into orbit, which marked a significant leap from the 22 satellite units achieved by the Long March 8 launch system in 2022.

Crafted by CAS Space, a subsidiary of the influential Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Lijian-1’s towering 30-metre solid rocket fuel structure successfully raised the bar in national space delivery.

State media outlined the payload’s diverse composition, highlighting key satellites such as the Shiyan-24A and Shiyan-24B. These experimental apparatus are tasked with pioneering “in-orbit verification of new space technologies, such as space environment monitoring”. Alongside them were other technological implements, including the Fucheng-1, equipped with a synthetic radar aperture (SAR), and commercial research units like Xingshidai-16 and Tianyi-26. The remaining satellites predominantly focused on “technology verification and commercial remote sensing services”.

Boasting an impressive load capacity, the four-stage Lijian-1 launch system can hoist 1.5 tonnes into a 500-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit. Shi Xiaoning, the system’s chief engineer, spoke with Global Times, expressing his confidence in the rocket’s reliability, albeit with concerns regarding the separation of satellites in orbit.

Eyeing the burgeoning space tourism market, CAS Space has plans in the pipeline for a reusable rocket (ZK-6). As part of this venture, a partnership has been inked with the China Tourism Group, the largest state-owned tourism corporation.

The Lijian 1 launch represents the 22nd orbital mission for China in the present year. CASC, the government-run China Aerospace Science and Technology agency, is gearing up for more than 60 launches in 2023. Private entities could potentially augment this number with an additional 20 or more orbital missions. As China continues to enhance its space launch capabilities year after year, it steadily inches towards rivalling the current global frontrunner, the United States.

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