Category China in Space


The manned Chinese space program literally rolled out for the first time on 9th June 1999. Pictures were published on the internet of a brand new rocket which looked like a Long March 2E at the bottom but with the top resembling the Russian Soyuz. Engineers mingled around the base of a large crawler used to move the white-and-red rocket across to its new launch site in Jiuquan. In the foreground, on the right, stood a 12-storey blue-gray steel assembly tower, with six swing arms reaching out at the side to grapple the rocket. Even more astonishing, in the left background was something that looked remarkably like the Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral, the largest structure in the world. The right front door of the 80-m-tall structure was rolled half down, to indicate that the new rocket had emerged therefrom. As was the normal custom, the Chinese had helpfully marked the rocket with the national flag on the top and “Long March 2F” in Chinese and Roman script vertically down the side. Later, the rocket was to acquire a special name: the Shenjian, or “magic arrow”. The new Long March, never before seen, had four strap-on rockets on the bottom. At the top was, just as on the Russian Soyuz, an escape tower and four aerodynamic flanges to be used to drop the cabin out of the nose cone during an emergency.

The photographs caused a sensation among China space-watchers. No one had expected these pictures to appear before a first launch and skeptics denounced them as forgeries. Still less did anyone expect such clear photographs, well scaled by the accompanying personnel, never mind the launch tower and the huge vehicle assembly building in the background. The Chinese did not publish the pictures, which, it transpired, had been taken by a Dutch engineer visiting the launch site in preparation for a scientific mission – and who had seen the rollout by chance. As ever, American intelligence agencies remained typically inscrutable, for there was no way that their spycraft would not have noticed the rollout, which took place in clear weather. Later, the National Reconnaissance Office admitted that it had been keeping an eye on a new building at Jiuquan since the mid-1990s – it had spotted the rollout of a full-scale mockup of the new launcher earlier in May 1998.

The Shenzhou rocket rolling out. Courtesy: Paolo Ulivi and Hang Heng Rong.

Preparations for the first mission took five months and were punctuated by delay. In August, the service module had to be taken apart to replace potentially faulty instruments. Engineers uncovered wiring problems and a gyroscope failed and had to be replaced. The new Long March 2F rocket did not take to the skies until 19th November 1999. Eight YF-20 engines fired together to lift the satellite into the dark skies. Night turned to day as the flames billowed under the Long March 2F at Jiuquan launch center. The gleaming white rocket, the red flag with five stars on two sides, headed skyward, the pin-shaped escape tower shooting free after 130 sec. Night-time had been chosen in order to track the later stages of the ascent to orbit through China’s clear winter skies.

Although there had been no pre-launch announcement from China, there was now one way whereby space-watchers could predict upcoming Chinese manned launch attempts – a technique learned from Soviet times: the location of its seaborne tracking ships, the Yuan Wang (see Chapter 2). In the period before the mission, these deployed as follows:

Yuan Wang 1: North-eastern China/north Pacific (to track entry into orbit);

Yuan Wang 2: North-east of New Zealand/southern ocean;

Yuan Wang 3: Coast of Namibia/south Atlantic (to prepare for retro-fire); and

Yuan Wang 4: South-west Australia/Indian Ocean.

During Soviet times, the arrival of big Russian comships on station was a sure sign of planned manned, lunar, Mars, or Venus missions. Now, whenever rumors flew of

The orbital pathway for Shenzhou, circles showing the range of the tracking dishes. Courtesy: Sven Grahn.

an upcoming Chinese mission, the experts always asked: But where are the tracking ships?

Shenzhou settled down into an orbit of 197-325 km, inclination 42.6°, orbital period 89.74 min. Signals came back from orbit through no fewer than seven different wavebands and confirmed that the main solar panels had deployed to provide electrical energy for the spacecraft. There was sustained applause in Beijing mission control when the many mission controllers got confirmation of the good news. Back at the launch pad, the task of the rocket team was done and they set off Uttle firecrackers to celebrate on the hot, sooty, still smoldering launch pad. The Shenzhou that flew was actually the electrical test version (three others had been built – two for ground tests and one for thermal tests). The orbital module had neither solar panels nor a life-support system. Shenzhou flew in a 31-orbit repeater pattern that brought it exactly over the Jiuquan launch center, ideal for possible future rendezvous missions.

On board Shenzhou were several kilos of biological experiments (10 vegetables and 30 medicinal herbs), plants, a dummy, and some commemorative souvenirs. The vegetables were 10 g each of seeds of melons, tomatoes, peas, radish, rape, green peppers, maize, and barley. The dummy, or mannequin, was 1.7 m tall, dressed in a silver-gray spacesuit, and laid at 15° to the horizontal, with his knees tucked up, much as a real astronaut would be. Sensors in the cabin recorded the mannequin’s journey, in particular the temperature, humidity, and oxygen level. Everything was done to ensure that the 14-part dummy mimicked human behavior as closely as possible: the same weight, the same heat, consuming 600 L of oxygen a day, and generating 12 MJ of energy. Also on board were the flags of China, Hong Kong, Macau, first-day stamp covers, a red banner signed by project participants, and 1,001 commemorative gold plaques.

Shenzhou made no maneuvers while in orbit. After 20 hr 20 min circling the Earth, in the course of which it made 14 orbits, retrorockets fired over the coast off west Africa (35.2°S, 0°E) and the cabin began a long searing descent through the flames of the upper atmosphere. The retro-fire command was sent up by the Yuan Wang 3 comship – not an easy task, for the weather had taken a turn for the worst in the previous 20 hr and the ship was now pounding into 10-m-tall waves, with white water washing over the sides. Shenzhou swung in a giant arc over western Asia. On re-entering at 80 km, a hot plasma shell formed around the cabin. Radar picked up the descending cabin and controllers relayed directions to three circling helicopters. Shenzhou came down gently under its parachute just to the east of where it had been launched, at 19:41 the next day, after 21 hr 11 min aloft. Parachutes deployed high in the thin atmosphere. As it came into land, four small solid-fuel retrorockets fired at a distance of 150 cm to break the fall for the final distance. The landing took place in darkness at 41°N, 105°E, 110 km from Wuhai, 52 min after retro-fire, about 415 km east of the launch site. The cabin came down 12 km from the point predicted and the heat shield was found 5 km away. The area selected was steppe grassland – so selected because of its flatness. The descent cabin was brought back to Beijing and displayed in triumph across the country. Meantime, the front cabin, the orbital module, which had been separated just before the firing of the retrorockets, made a separation burn and stayed for 12 days longer in orbit until 1st December, when it lost altitude to 122 km and decayed.


Estimating worldwide space budgets has always been problematical, for figures are complicated by currency rates, variable labor costs, commercial revenues, and just how inclusive they are of infrastructure, development costs, and military programs. China’s space budget is also complicated, as are others in command or former command economies, by the notional nature of some financial transfers, cross­industry subsidies, and the provision of important functions by the military (e. g. search and recovery operations). A particular consideration is that labor costs in China are low. As a result, formal financial estimates of the Chinese space budget have tended to be on the low side by international comparison.

The Chinese have rarely published global figures on space spending, but they have for individual projects. For example, the cost of project 921 was given as ¥18bn (about €1.5bn), of which ¥8bn comprised new facilities and ¥10bn the development of Shenzhou. Later, they quoted costs for an unmanned Shenzhou launch of ¥800m and manned of ¥lbn (€80m and €100m, respectively). The cost of Chang e up to 2012 was given as ¥2.3bn (€230m). The first time China volunteered the cost of its annual space budget was when a NASA administrator visited China in 2006 and he was given a figure of €1.4bn. This figure is on the low side and it is possible that it does not include either development costs or military missions. Western assessments early this century were in the range of €lbn-2bn a year, specifically €1.5bn (Futron), €1.59bn (America’s Aviation Week & Space Technology), €1.68bn (Britain’s Flight International) to between €1.5bn and €2bn (civil) or a total of €2.5bn including defense (Pirard). The most authoritative


United States

















Source: ESD. European Space Directory, 2012. ESD, Paris (2012).

* NASA, €14,615m; Department of Defense, €21,538m; others, €13,846m. ** ESA and national programs.

comparisons are those made by Belgian writer Theo Pirard in the European Space Directory; these are detailed in Table 10.2.

Whilst these figures are helpful, the relative positions may be more meaningful. These figures show the United States as not only the largest space spender, but the largest by far. Europe comes in second, far behind, with Japan following even further in turn. The table places China as the fifth space spender in the world, behind Japan and Russia but well ahead of India. These figures, though, are only the direct spending figures by the state and do not include revenue. Two other analyses are available. First, Futron has assessed the economic value of the Chinese space program at€12bn annually – a figure which takes account of both those working in industry and its benefits to the economy. Second, in 2011, a domestic analysis was made, using a quite different assessment system, estimating the investment of the space program to be between ¥10bn and ¥20bn (€lbn to €2bn, in line with our earlier figures), giving a boost to the economy of between 0.034% and 0.103%, respectively, annually – quite small in the context of an economy of €4,300bn [1]. Overall, there is much more work to be done in assessing the level of space spending in an internationally comparable, transparent manner. China’s space budget may be relatively low, but it is stable, which permits long-term planning, and has many built – in economies to keep costs down. It is economical, for, as the Shenzhou and Chang e programs exemplified, missions are spaced well apart, each manned mission marking a step forward. Existing spacecraft are adapted for a broad range of new purposes, like the DFH-3 comsat for Moon probes. “Bus” designs are used for many different types of missions. Rockets follow a common design, the Long March 3 and 4 being based on the Long March 2. The introduction of small satellites and micro-satellites means lower launch costs. All these features keep costs down.

There are no absolutely clear figures available for the numbers of people working in the Chinese space program. The best Western estimates give a figure of 200,000 people directly involved in the space industry, but this does not include sub­contracting companies, which could possibly double this number. Of these, 100,000 are technical workers, drawn from light industry, the army’s technical ranks, and the polytechnics. About 10,000 are graduate research engineers working in 460 institutes leading or connected to the space program. The Chinese space program has been able to choose the top graduates coming out of engineering schools and has been able to attract the country’s most talented scientists.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the workforce is not its number, but its age. When 38-year-old Yang Liwei circled the Earth in 2003, many of the people who designed his spaceship and controlled his mission were younger than him. Eighty percent of the engineers were under 40 and some were even under 30. Shenzhou program designer Wang Yongzhi once pointed to the emergence of a large group of young specialists as the key to a successful long-term program. The youth of the program is even more evident if we look at the mission control center for the manned space program. Almost all those recruited there were under 30 on their arrival and their average age is 27. Although their pay was low, about €2,000 a year – a fraction of what they could have received in the private sector – working there was coveted and prestigious, with onward career opportunities in science, technology, and the military. Controllers were encouraged to take master’s courses in Tsinghua University and Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics and to study abroad in Britain, France, and the United States. In 20-30 years’ time, they will be at the peak of their careers, with a long experience behind them. Chinese delegates to international space events stand out for their youth.


Several names are irrevocably associated with the development of the world’s great space programs, like Sergei Korolev in Russia, Wernher von Braun in Germany, Hideo Itokawa in Japan, and Yikram Sarabhai in India. The father of China’s space program was Tsien Hsue Shen, born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, in 1911, the only child of an educational official (note that he is sometimes spelt Xian Xuesen: it is the same person). The name Tsien Hsue Shen means “study to be wise” and he attended a primary school for gifted children in Beijing. A model child with an outstanding school record, Tsien subsequently entered the Beijing Normal University High School. At 18, he applied to Jiatong University in Shanghai to study railway engineering, coming third in the nation in the entrance exam. A serious, aloof, immaculately dressed, and perfectly behaved student, Tsien was a man who Uked to study on his own, his only outside interest being classical music (he played the violin). Graduating as top student, with 89 points out of 100, he chose to pursue aeronautical engineering, competing for a scholarship in the United States in 1935. He started at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), staying only a year before moving to the California Institute of Technology (popularly known as CalTech) in Pasadena, where he studied under the great Austro-Hungarian mathematician Theodore von Karman and graduated as doctor in 1939. At that stage, the scientific and technical sector was poorly developed in China and almost all aspiring scientists went abroad to study.

There, five fellow students and associates invited him to join a group interested in what would now be called amateur rocketry. They were a gang of experimenters

buying up spare parts, assembling them, and letting them off in the nearby desert. He was in effect the mathematics advisor to the group, writing his first work on rocketry, “The Effect of Angle of Divergence of Nozzle on the Thrust of a Rocket Motor; Ideal Cycle of a Rocket Motor; Ideal Efficiency and Ideal Thrust; Calculation of Chamber Temperature with Disassociation”, in 1937. Their first, often dangerous, experiments were presented to the Institute of Aeronautical Sciences and written about locally in the student press, where Tsien made some reckless comments about the possibility of eventually sending rockets 1,200 km into space. Rather like fellow rocketeers in Germany and the Soviet Union, their work soon became sponsored by the military, who saw the potential for rockets both to make aircraft fly faster and as ballistic missiles. By 1942, after the United States entered the war, Tsien was working on small solid-rocket motors to help aircraft get airborne; shortly afterwards, he helped to draw up plans for a missile program and later received a commendation from the Air Force for this work. By 1943, Tsien had become assistant professor of aeronautics in 1943 and taught students, though many found his manner intimidating, intolerant, arrogant, over-precise, and unsympa­thetic. He was one of the co-founders of the famous Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), from where American unmanned exploration of the Moon, the nearby planets, and the outer solar system was to be subsequently guided, and, in 1944, he became the first head of research analysis there.

In May 1945, having been given the temporary rank of colonel of the United States Air Force, Tsien arrived in Germany to survey the Nazi wartime achievements in missiles, especially their A-4 (V-2) rocket. On 5th May, he met the leading German rocket engineer Wernher von Braun, who had just surrendered to the Americans, at the very time when their opposite number in the Soviet Union, chief designer Sergei Korolev, was scouring other nearby parts of Germany on an identical mission. Returning to JPL, Tsien published his wartime technical writing in a book called Jet Propulsion (1946, JPL). After a return to MIT in 1946-48 and a brief visit to China in 1947 (where he married), he became in 1950 the Robert Goddard professor of jet propulsion at CalTech. He gave a presentation to the American Rocket Society in which he outlined the concept of a transcontinental rocketliner able to fly 400 km above the Earth, its spacesuited passengers floating in its cabin as they briefly enjoyed weightlessness – ideas covered in Popular Science, Flight, and the New York Times.

The following year, in 1951, at the height of the McCarthy witch-hunt in the United States, he was accused of being a communist. A period of confusion followed, in the course of which Tsien had his security clearance revoked and was then jailed. The various bureaucratic factions of the American government argued about whether he should be released, jailed, or deported, while his papers were impounded. He was charged that one set of papers comprised secret codes: closer inspection revealed that they were logarithmic tables.

Four years later, Tsien and 93 fellow scientists returned to communist China in exchange for 76 American prisoners of war taken in Korea. Re-entering China through Hong Kong, then a British colony, Tsien and his family were warmly greeted in Shenzhen by the Chinese Academy of Sciences and welcomed by Zhou


Tsien in Germany, right, given a temporary military uniform.


Tsien sketched, in the late 1940s, a spaceplane to fly the Atlantic.


Tsien designed these spaceplanes for suborbital flight. Courtesy: Mark Wade.

Enlai in a series of homecoming celebrations that culminated in Beijing, just restored as China’s capital city. He brought with him – in his head, since his papers had been seized – the most up-to-date theory of rocketry from the United States. On 17th February 1956, he was entertained by no less than Mao Zedong himself.

However, he had to start virtually from scratch. China in the early 1950s had barely emerged from a long period of great turbulence and destruction – colonial invasions, social unrest, the war with Japan, then the civil war, and finally the communist revolution of 1949. Making bicycles, cars, and trucks represented the limit of China’s industrial and technical capacity – there were no aircraft factories, test sites, wind tunnels, or the type of facilities Tsien had taken for granted in California. His arrival, though, coincided with the adoption by the government of a


Tsien welcomed back to China by Zhou Enlai, 1955.


Tsien invited to meet Mao Zedong, February 1956.

10-year plan, Long-Range Planning Essentials for Scientific and Technological Development, 1956-67, defining priority tasks such as rocket and jet technology, atomic energy, and computers. As part of this, a party and government decision formed the Fifth Research Academy of the Ministry of National Defence on 8th October 1956. This was the sonorous title of the institute that led the Chinese space program, for which the government took over two abandoned sanatoria and requisitioned 156 university graduates to begin work there, putting Tsien Hsue Shen in charge.

Tsien’s first task was to recruit fellow scientists and engineers, mainly contemporaries returning to China from Britain and the United States. Helped by Zhou Enlai, he appears to have been spectacularly successful, for the biographies of China’s space designers looked Uke a graduation list from MIT and CalTech. The roll call of early Chinese space designers came from the United States (Ren Xinmin, engines; Tu Shoue, rocket design; Yang Yiachi, automation; Wang Xiji, recoverable satellites; Tu Shancheng, Shuguang), Britain (Chen Fangyun, electronics; Wang Weilu, rocket design), the Soviet Union (Sun Jiadong, satellites; Tong Kai, navigational and weather satellites), and Germany (Zhao Jiuzhang, space physics) [3].

Zhou Enlai went to some length to ensure that the Chinese communist party should welcome them home and not treat them with suspicion because they had been born in what was termed “the old society” or were not communists. Even still, they recognized that they would need outside help to make progress, so they turned to China’s political ally, the Soviet Union, sending a delegation to Moscow. Under the New Defence Technical Accord 1957-87, the Soviet Union supplied its version of the German A-4, with blueprints and technical documents, while 102 engineers went to the USSR for training. Although quite old technology at this stage, it would take the Chinese several years to build and fire their own version, finding out the hard way that production of a rocket and its many exacting components was a difficult, demanding, and sophisticated task. A program of scientific cooperation was agreed with the USSR Academy of Sciences in February 1960.

Everything changed on 4th October 1957, when the Soviet Union launched the first Earth satellite, Sputnik. The launching should not have surprised the Chinese, for the coming launch had been announced in the Soviet press many times over the preceding three years. Warned or not, the Chinese Academy of Sciences swung into action, setting up observation stations in Beijing, Nanjing, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Changchun, Yunan, and Shaanxi, coordinated by the ancient Zijin Shan Purple Mountain observatory.

On 17th May 1958, awed by Russian rockets which he had inspected during a visit to Moscow and inspired by the performance of the Soviet Union in orbiting a large, 1.5-tonne satellite two days earlier (Sputnik 3), Mao Zedong proclaimed that “China too must launch Earth satellites”. A meeting of the Fifth Academy was convened and Tsien was instructed to build an Earth satellite. It was given a project code number (project 581), as was the project to launch an indigenous version of the German-Russian rocket (1059). Coding has been an important part of the Chinese space program, the digits coming from either the year in question and the project

Подпись: Chinese observers follow Sputnik. The Soviet satellite created great excitement.

number of that year (e. g. 1955 and 1) or the date of the month (3 31 for the 31st of the third month, March), or from more obscure sources. Table 2.1 lists the coded projects of the Chinese space program.

Despite an initial burst of energy, project 581 soon faltered, the fault being largely that of its instigator, none other than Mao Zedong himself. It coincided with the great leap forward, a period of forced modernization in industry, agriculture, and the


Moon probe (2003)


Communications satellite (1977)


Original Earth satellite project (1958)


Earth satellite project, as renewed (1965)


Ji Shu Shiyan Weixing (1970)


Shuguang manned spaceflight program (1971)


Horizontal scientific research program (1986)


Recoverable satellite program (1967)


Manned spaceflight program (1992)


Copy the Russian version of the German A-4 (1958)

Table 2.1. The coded projects of the Chinese space program.




China’s first modern rocket, the R-l, based on the wartime German A-4 (V-2).

economy but which included bizarre campaigns to eliminate rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows as well as to build small steel furnaces in every street. By the following year, the economy was collapsing and milhons were starving, even the designers of the Fifth Academy going hungry. Then came the great Sino-Soviet split, which cut China off from Russian technical and scientific assistance. A rising party official, Deng Xiaoping, finally issued the instructions to cancel the satellite project, but to continue with the missile project. Instead of a satellite, he urged the members of the 581 group to focus on more realistic goals, like building a sounding rocket. This they did, but in the most primitive conditions imaginable. The rocket was hoisted into place by a well winch; the command bunker comprised stacked bales of hay; and, lacking even a loudspeaker, the countdown was done by hand signals. Still, the first sounding rockets were fired in 1959.

The missile required a launch site, the chief concern that it be far inland from spying American planes. An oasis 1,600 km north-west of Beijing was selected – Jiuquan, in a high desert, suitable for its remoteness, low population density, and clear air. The XX corps of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) arrived there in April 1958 to clear the site. Eventually, a home-made Chinese version of the Russian variant of the German A-4 was fired from there on 5th November 1960 and called the Dong Feng 1, or “east wind” 1. By this time, the Russians had gone home and the Americans were overhead in their prying U-2 spy-planes. The Dong Feng later became the name of a series of missiles that constituted the Chinese missile force (Dong Feng 1, 2, 3, etc.) and, four years later, China was able to build an atomic bomb for them to deliver.


The Long March 3 was introduced in order to give China the capabihty of flying to geosynchronous orbit. Although a new name, it was actually an adaptation of its first two stages of the Long March 2, adding a powerful, hydrogen – fuelled upper stage, while later versions added strap-ons to give the rocket much extra lift at take-off. The Long March 3 was introduced in January 1984. Although the satellite launched was left stranded in low Earth orbit, the rocket has since then been used successfully for both domestic and foreign communications satellite launches (Chapter 5), as well as weather satellites (Chapter 6). After 13 missions, it was retired with the Feng Yun 2 weather satellite in 2000. The Long March 3 was a single stack, without strap-on rockets, and gave way to three variants: the ЗА, the powerful 3B, and the most recent, the 3C.

The Long March ЗА was the first variant of the Long March 3, introduced 10 years later, offering substantially improved performance and able to place about twice the weight in geosynchronous orbit. It had a stretched first stage and bigger third stage. The third stage was entirely redesigned and carried two YF-75 engines (rather than one on the Long March 3). Ten small engines were fitted to the third stage in an attempt to settle the propellant before its second ignition. The Long March ЗА had a new, advanced digital computer system. It has been used to fly communications and navigation satellites and, later, China’s first Moon probe.

The Long March ЗА continues in service, but is now supplemented by the Long March 3C, introduced on the Tian Lian data relay launch on 25th April 2008 and used subsequently for Beidou missions and the Chang e 2 lunar mission. In effect, it is the CZ-3A with two strap-ons, giving

Long March 2F profile, with escape tower on top. Courtesy: Mark Wade.

Long March 3 in its hangar, supported by trolleys. Courtesy: Cindy Liu.

it the much greater capacity of 3.9 tonnes to geostationary transfer orbit. This makes it much heavier (345 tonnes) and slightly taller (55 m).

The Long March 3B is the most powerful rocket in the Chinese armory of unmanned spaceflight (5,923-kN thrust), with four strap-on rockets to achieve a payload of between 4.8 and 5.5 tonnes to geosynchronous orbit. The 3B took a number of systems directly from the ЗА, such as engines, electronics, guidance, and computer controls, but with larger propellant tanks, a larger nose fairing, and better computer. The Long March 3B got off to a bad start, crashing on its maiden flight on St Valentine’s Day in 1996, but subsequently going on to be China’s main lifter of domestic and foreign communications satellites. Modifications were made in 2009 to increase payload to 5.5 tonnes (lengthening the booster by 77 cm, the first stage by 1.49 m, and modifying the fins). Details are given in Table 3.5.


The new Long March 3 and its payload made their way to the pad on New Year’s Day, 1984. Three rockets had been allocated to the task in recognition that success

might not come on the first attempt. Wisps of evaporating oxidizer blew away from the third stage as the rocket counted down. All seemed to go perfectly at first, the upper stage with Shiyan Weixing entering its parking orbit of 290-460 km, 31°. It was intended that the third stage would fire a second time over Xi Chang on its first pass so as to shoot the satellite on its way to geosynchronous orbit – but the engine failed, leaving the satellite stranded in low Earth orbit. Pressure in the launching chamber reached only 90% of the level necessary and, after 3 sec, collapsed. A turbine had overheated, so analysis of downlink to the tracking ship Yuan Wang 1 revealed.

This was a great disappointment, for the YF-73 had been exhaustively tested. The Chinese decided they would salvage what they could of the Shiyan Weixing, simulating the final maneuvers, station-keeping, and testing the communications and engineering systems. Engineers worked night and day to resolve the problems and get the next test ready before summer rain and thunder made launches more difficult. The new satellite was called Shiyan Tongbu Tongxin Weixing (experimental geostationary communications satellite). The Yuan Wang again took up position 1,000 km off the Chinese coast. At dusk on 8th April, the clouds rolled away and twinkling stars came out in the darkening sky. Spotlights played on the ready rocket. Fuelling began and crowds began to gather on the surrounding hills. At 19:20:02, a technician pressed the red firing button and the Long March 3 headed skyward. As the Long March 3 upper stage cruised southbound over the Earth’s equator, the rocket reignited and hurtled the 1-tonne satellite skyward. Twenty minutes later, Yuan Wang reported that, this time, the burn to geosynchronous orbit appeared to be alright, at 437-35,499 km, 31.08°. Two days later, the apogee kick motor fired to raise the perigee to 35,521 km and the apogee to 36,383 km, bringing the inclination to less than 1°, hovering over 125°E.

The final test came on 16th April when the television relay system was commanded on. The first pictures were clear and stable, the colors realistic, and the sound well up to standard. The satellite hosted 200 telephone lines – many to the remote west of the country – and, in a much-publicized phone call, a senior official in the Communist Party called a distant party committee in Xinjiang. The voice quality was good, with almost no background noise or interference. Its 15 radio and television channels transmitted programs in Cantonese, Amoy, Hakka, Japanese, Spanish, Russian, Burmese, and Tagalog, some of these languages not hitherto familiar on the international satellite ether. The satellite operated for four years, correcting its orbit every two months, and retired into a graveyard orbit in 1988. To mark the success of the new satellite, a solemn celebration was convened in the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing.

Following the success of Shiyan Tongbu Tongxin Weixing, the Chinese proceeded to the launch of the first operational geosynchronous communications satellite, Shiyong Tongbu Tongxin Weixing (“operational geostationary communications satellite”). The main difference was an improved 0.7-m-diameter dish and it was launched two years later, operating for four years and transmitting 30 television stations.

The historical first telephone call by satellite.


The United States and Soviet Union were the first two countries to introduce navigation satellites: the GPS and GLONASS, respectively, with Europe (Galileo, which includes China as a financial investor) and India (GAGAN) coming later. A Chinese system was approved in 1983 and, to save development costs, the Dong Fang Hong 3 communications satellite design was used, giving it a weight of 2,200 kg. China had developed sophisticated atomic clocks far in advance of Western ones. Under the guidance of Gua Guantan of the Chinese Science & Technology University, China had built a quantum computational center in 1999, learned how to use lasers to cool atoms, and conquered the problem of the atomic fountain [19]. These clocks, much more advanced than the old Western caesium clocks, reputedly had an accuracy of 1 sec in 30m years. Appointed chief designer of the system was Sun Jiadong, a natural choice granted his leadership of the DFH-2 and 3 series.

China’s first navigation satellite appeared on 31st October 2000. Following a midnight launch, a Long March ЗА placed the satellite at 140°E at 36,000 km with complete precision 10 days after leaving Xi Chang. It was given the name Beidou, the Chinese word for the Plough constellation, or the Big Dipper. Two months later, on 21st December, Beidou 2 followed. The last satellite to be launched that year, it reached its final destination at 80°E three days before the end of the old year and (strictly speaking) the millennium. With satellites at 80°E and 140°E, the Chinese

The Long March ЗА, used to lift the Beidou navigation satellite to orbit.

system appeared to follow a third way, quite different from the United States and Russia, providing a regional, rather than a global, system, using only two spacecraft, functional between the longitudes of Arabia and eastern Australia, centered on the Chinese landmass. Western analysts were puzzled by this system. Suspecting ulterior purpose, the suggestion was made that Beidou was a cunning way of providing accuracy measurements during the key over-the-horizon stages of the flight path of a nuclear strike when the DF-5A missiles curved over the North Pole en route to destroy the cities of the eastern United States [20].

China also booked an orbital location at 110.5°E. This was explained initially as the location for a spare, but then as the third element of a three-part system. A third Beidou, Beidou 3, duly arrived there on 24th May 2003. Like its predecessors, Beidou 3 reached the point following a 200-41,991 km super-synchronous orbit. Each satellite would fire thrusters every month to maintain its position in orbit to within 1°, or 150 km of its hover point. The system was first tested with Beijing’s 7,000-strong bus fleet in 1999, which had its own form of mission control room. Later, they said, Beidou would provide accurate navigational fixes for ships, road and rail transport, and presumably also for aircraft. It transpired that these were experimental tests for a later, operational system. They nevertheless served their makers well, for the first Beidou worked until October 2010, when it began to drift off station and reached 59°E. Beidou 1-2 and 1-3 were both retired on the same day: 21st November 2011.

China was ready to proceed with an operational system seven years after the first launch. The first intended operational Beidou took a super-synchronous orbit on 2nd February 2007 and arrived on station by the end of the month. There are quite contradictory reports as to what happened next. Orbital Debris Quarterly News quoted the US Space Surveillance Network as saying that there had been an engine explosion when it reached apogee on the first day of its mission, leaving 70-100 debris items – almost certainly a catastrophic explosion. China admitted that there were problems with the solar panels and, by mid-April, had moved the satellite to a stable orbit at 144°E, close to Beidou 1 at 140°E. There it stayed until it was maneuvered off station on 30th September and relocated to 147°E two weeks later, eventually retiring in February 2009. The 14th April 2009 launch also appears to have been even more problematical and it rapidly drifted off station.

The next Beidou followed in quick succession on 13th April 2007 and entered its final orbit on the 17th. To general amazement, it headed for a completely different type of orbit – 21,000 km, 55°, circling the Earth every 773 min or approximately every 12 hr. This was a type of orbit used by Russia for its GLONASS navigation satellites, although lower (19,000 km, period 675 min). It remained the only satellite of its type for five years when two were launched together in May 2012, this time using the CZ-3B for the first time in the series. The launch trajectory took the CZ-3B to the south-east, over Hainan Island, before heading over the Gulf of Tonking. They were given the designation MEO 3 and 4 (MEO for Medium Earth Orbit), even though MEO 2 was never listed. One explanation is that the medium-Earth – orbit version required a special type of clock. It is reported that China ordered 18-20 rubidium clocks from Spectratime in Switzerland, famed for a geographical accuracy

Beidou being fitted out.

of 10 m and a timing accuracy of 50 nanoseconds, and developing its application for this orbit took some time.

Ever incapable of leaving a numbering system alone, China now renumbered the series. First, these missions were called Beidou 2 (with 2-1, 2-2, and 2A, 2B subsequently, etc., being used). Then a new term, DW, also appeared, standing for Beidou Daohang Weixing, for Beidou Navigation Satellite, so this was DW1. This was further complicated by the announcement that Beidou would be subdivided into three sub-series: the G, the I, and the M, each with its own sub-designators. Sometimes the Chinese also applied the term “Compass”, referring to it as the “Compass System”. They defined the operational system as comprising 35 satelhtes by 2020:

• 5 satellites at GEO at the equator (0°), the G series, standing for geosynchronous;

• 3 satellites at GEO at 55°, the I series, Inclined Geo Synchronous Orbit (IGSO);

• 27 satellites at 21,000 km (GLONASS-type orbit), the M series (medium).

The 13th April 2007 launch was therefore called Beidou 2-1, or Compass Ml (1M was also used) or DW1. What appeared to be a simple, two-satellite regional navigation system had suddenly become more complicated. What the Chinese were

Beidou fitted into its launch shroud.

doing was using a constellation of three overlapping types of orbits (equatorial synchronous, inclined synchronous, and GLONASS) to ensure high accuracy. The signaling system varied from one type to the other, the G series using relays, the I series using caesium clocks, and the M series using rubidium clocks.

Beidou DW5 took an orbit that had never been seen before: the inclined synchronous. This was the first of the I or IGSO series, with two more and two

spares following in quick succession within the next 18 months (DW7, 8, 9, and 10). Satellites which circle the Earth every 24 hr had always been positioned over the equator but, this time, the Beidou was inclined in high orbit 55° above the equator, presumably to look down over the northern Chinese landmass.

After this, there was a return to the original Beidou model of 24-hr geosynchronous orbit over the equator (DW3, 4, 6, 11). By summer 2012, the system comprised 13 satellites – four GEO, six inclined synchronous, and three MEO – and was on course for completion of the full system, making it by any standards a significant national project.

The extent of use of the system was unclear. As was the case with GLONASS in Russia, the system was principally used by the public sector, where it had at least 40,000 customers. The value to the economy was estimated to be ¥50bn, scheduled to rise to ¥225bn (€25bn) by 2015. Most individuals continued to use the American GPS. Planned economies were notoriously slow to promote navigation satellites with ordinary consumers, with Russia only persuaded to do so when President Putin saw its value in relocating his lost dog to whom a receiver had been attached. One application was the fishing industry, where more than 30,000 receivers were installed on fishing boats. The lead had been taken by Hainan’s regional government, which began by installing 6,000 receivers at a cost of ¥79m (€10m), requiring the fishermen to pay 10% of the costs. China has over a million fishing boats, but hardly any of them had modem safety devices and the Beidou terminal could also be used to send distress calls. The series is summarized in Table 6.10.

Table 6.10. Beidou series.

Synchronous, 140°E Synchronous, 80°E Synchronous, 110.5°E Probable failure 55°, medium

Synchronous, 85°E, probable failure

Synchronous, 160°E, later 140°E

Synchronous, 84.6°E

55° inclined synchronous, 118°E

Synchronous, 160°E

55° inclined synchronous, 118°E

55° inclined synchronous, 118°E

55° inclined synchronous, 93°E, spare

55° inclined synchronous, 93°E, spare

Synchronous, 58.6°E

55°, medium

All from Xi Chang. Inclined orbits highlighted in italics.


The second Shenzhou mission had originally been set for October 2000, but delays pushed preparations to 5th January the following year. Wintertime was favored because seas were at their calmest in the southern seas where the tracking ships were located. On New Year’s Eve, a crane hit and dented the second stage of the launcher, causing a five-day delay. It was not until the early hours of 10th January 2001 that Shenzhou 2 lifted off from Jiuquan. Shenzhou 2 entered orbit as it passed over the Chinese coast in a path that circled the Earth every 91.1 min at 197-336 km, 42.58°. A ground observer in Houston, Texas, spotted Shenzhou through binoculars six hours later. It was at a magnitude of +2 to +3.5 and could just be seen with the naked eye.

This time, it was a fully functioning version. Twelve experiments were carried on the orbital module, 15 in the descent module and 37 in a scientific unit both inside and attached to the orbital module on the outside – 64 experiments in all. Each Shenzhou from now on was kitted out with a different set of instruments in, on the outside of, and on the front of the orbital module. There were 25 life science experiments, selected from 87 proposals to the Academy of Sciences. Ten biological experiments were flown, including micro-organisms, plants, aquatic organisms, larvae, and invertebrates. The Chinese announced that animals were on board, along with a cargo of plants, seeds, and snails. The exact nature of the animals was not revealed – one newspaper quoted a dog, a monkey, and a rabbit, another rats; there was even a report of a snake (some wit volunteered “a panda”). Post-landing announcements gave the cargoes as six mice, fruit flies, and small aquatic animals. The specimens were chosen by the Institute of Medical Space Engineering. There were three containers with 20,000 plant grains and seeds, including tomato, cucumber, cabbage, Chinese cabbage, wheat, potato, com, apple, pear, asparagus, carrot, and fungus. Other experiments dealt with life sciences, astronomy, physics, materials sciences, semiconductors, oxide crystals, the crystal growth of protein and biological macromolecules in zero gravity, and the effects of the space environment on cells and micro-organisms. There was a multi-chamber crystal growth furnace for semiconductors, oxidized mono-crystals, and metallic alloys, photographed by camera. Experiments covered molecular biology, crystal oxides, metal alloys, atmospheric density, astrophysics, and solar physics.

Shenzhou relayed television from the descent cabin: in the course of time, this would send back pictures of the first yuhangyuan on board. Shenzhou 2 carried, unlike its predecessor, the full environmental control system to provide air and proper temperatures for a crew. A second advance was that Shenzhou 2 tested the spacecraft’s maneuvering ability. At 13:23 on the 10th, 20 hr 20 min into its mission and off the coast of Namibia, Shenzhou 2 raised its low point to adjust its orbit to a more circular path of 329-334 km, one of the main objectives of the mission. On

12th January at 12:19, there was a small maneuver to re-estabhsh the orbit from decay. At 10:34 on 15th January, Shenzhou 2 adjusted its course over the Arabian Sea to an apogee of 345 km, so as to get on track for re-entry the following day. The orbital module was cast free at 10:23 on 16th January as it was passing over 42.5°W, 64.7°S. Retro-fire duly took place 10 min later over 34.2°S, 7.3°W, off the coast of south-west Africa and over Yuan Wang 3.

Shenzhou passed over Tanzania, Somalia, the coastline of Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan, eventually passing over the Jiuquan launch site to come down over Inner Mongolia. In the recovery zone, darkness had fallen. The recovery team, equipped with four helicopters and six recovery vehicles, was ready in perishingly cold conditions, with temperatures tumbling to -30°C. Far to the west, the fireball of Shenzhou 2’s re-entry was spotted as the spacecraft went into the blackout zone. There were cheers when the first radar station picked up the cabin high in the atmosphere. The drogue parachute came out under 20 km and then the 1,200-m2 main parachute. As the cabin touched down, the circling helicopters saw the brown and orange flash of the landing rockets in the dark and headed towards the spot. It was a bitter evening during one of the coldest winters for many years. Total flight time was 6 days, 18 hr 21 min and the cabin had made 108 orbits and traveled 5.4m km. The official announcement of the landing was flashed soon thereafter, stating that the cabin had landed smoothly, had been quickly recovered, and that the mission had been a complete success.

і. . і. . і. . і. . і. . і

But was it? There was no triumphant parading of the returned cabin in Beijing. No pictures were even released of it landing – difficult presumably, since it was dark. Officially, it was to be shipped to Beijing “shortly”. In no time, Western commentators were speculating that “something had gone wrong”. There were some reports that the cabin had been damaged at the final stage of landing because one of the parachute cords had broken free. Commentators further speculated a number of possibilities as to what might have gone wrong. Some time later, the Chinese stopped denying that there had been a hard landing, resulting from a broken parachute connection. It also emerged later that the spacecraft had briefly tumbled out of control during the separation of the orbital module.

Once again, the orbital module was detached for independent flight. This time, it carried out maneuvers, the first only a day later, with a propellant load sufficient to change velocity by up to 60 m/sec. These were used promptly on 17th January to raise the altitude of the module by 60 km and thus prolong its orbital lifetime. More surprises followed. The module maneuvered again on 20th February, raising its orbit from 375-391 km to 389-403 km, and again on 15th March, from 382-390 km to 394—405 km. After the March maneuver, 58 days after the start of the mission, the module’s orbit was allowed to decay naturally. By mid-August, it was down to 209 km, 88.9 min. The module eventually burned up on 24th August after 260 days (decay point was 33.1°S, 260.4°E, in the Pacific west of Chile).

The ability to maneuver clearly required an autonomous flight capacity, navigation, and control systems, as well as engines, fuel, and orientation systems.

Samples taken from Shenzhou 2 materials processing experiments. Courtesy: COSPAR China.

Data were transmitted whenever the orbital module made an overpass of a ground station in China. The Russians had never used the Soyuz orbital module in this way and it had always been discarded as debris. The Chinese were far from reticent about the new assignment for the orbital module and hailed the experiment as a means of getting considerable scientific value added from an engineering test.

At this stage, China gave more details of the astronomy and astrophysics instruments. Shenzhou 2 carried China’s first big astronomical payload: a soft x – ray detector, hard x-ray detector, and gamma-ray detector which recorded both cosmic gamma-ray events and high-energy emissions from solar flares. The hard x – ray detector was the largest instrument, 14.3 kg in weight, and operating in the 20- 200-keV and 40-800-keV ranges. The gamma-ray detector was 9 kg, also self­triggering, operating in the 200-keV to 8-MeV range, and it could pick up bursts in any direction. The 8.2-kg soft x-ray detector had a range of 0.2-2 keV, with a small window, turned off every time it pointed to the Sun, for its self-protection. These instruments were originally to have been flown on the canceled Tianwen mission (Chapter 7). Later, they were rescheduled for an unspecified large spacecraft in 2000, but now found their way onto Shenzhou. Between them, they obtained complete light curves and energy spectra of high temporal resolution of several gamma-ray bursts, allowing astronomers to trace the evolution of high-energy radiation and its structure. The super-soft x-ray detector and gamma-ray detector worked until 25th June, marking the first Chinese set of observations of gamma – ray burst, six events being measured (duration and energy level), while 13 solar x – ray bursts were analyzed (spikes and subsequent decline). The instruments detected 100 solar flares, which were compared to observations made at the same time by the Japanese Yohkoh satellite. The space environment instruments were an atmospheric composition detector and an atmospheric density detector to determine the density of atomic oxygen, with a view to selecting the best orbiting altitude for the spaceship and the best type of protective material. The space environment experiment gave scientists a detailed mass spectral map of the atmospheric composition and density data, with a distribution map of the diurnal variation of the global atmospheric density. According to the Chinese, sensors examined the orbital environment to obtain key information on its composition, particle densities [4].


There are several approaches to analyzing the rhythm and characteristics of the Chinese space program itself. The following are the basic statistics of the Chinese space program. By the end of 2011, China had made 154 launches and these are listed in Table 10.3 (the annex covers the 164 launches to end in June 2012). Over the period 1970-2010, this gives an average of over three per year, as may be seen from Table 10.3.

Table 10.3. Annual Chinese launches, 1970-2011.

Table 10.4. Annual launches by leading space nations, 2007-11.

The pace of the early Chinese space program was quite peristaltic, with some years in which there were no launches at all – almost repeated in 2001, when there was only one. Not until the late 1990s did the Chinese establish a rhythm of five or six launches a year, with China breaking into double figures in the late 2000s, 2011 clearly evident as the breakthrough year in which it overtook the United States (Table 10.4). This is clearly the upward pace of an expanding, challenging program.

The categories of spacecraft launched and the emphasis of the program will already be evident from the previous chapters (e. g. applications, space science, manned, etc.). These statistics, in Table 10.5, gave a more detailed picture of satellite types. By the end of June 2012, China had launched 202 satellites, in the descending order shown.

One must be careful with these figures, for micro-satellites and piggybacks may constitute a larger number than their importance suggests. By contrast, the low percentages of some other programs (e. g. weather, navigation) may understate their importance to the program as a whole. Nevertheless, the emphasis on communica­tions (25%) is apparent, for such satellites comprise the largest single element of the program, at over a quarter, combining domestic communications and international commercial launches. At an earlier stage of the program, it was possible to divide










FSW recoverable3



Earth resources/oceanographic4



Navigation (Beidou)



Micro-satellites, piggyback5



Meteorological (Feng Yun)



Scientific and lunar6



Manned (Shenzhou, Tiangong)




Satellites to orbit by 30th June 2012. Percentages rounded for convenience.


1 Domestic, international, and commercial; Tian Lian relay satellites.

2 JSSW; Yaogan; Shi Jian; Shi Jian 6 series, 11 series and 12; Feng Huo; Shentong.

3 FSW series and Shi Jian S.

4 Haiyang; Huanjing; CBERS; Tansuo; Tianhui.

5 KF-1; SAC; Freja; Chuangxin; Banxing; Naxing; MEMS; Xi Wang; Yaogan 9; Pixing; Tianxun; Tiantuo.

6 Shi Jian 1, 2 series, 4, 5, 7; Chang e; Qi Qi; Tan Ce. Dong Fang Hong included here for convenience.

these between Chinese government and foreign, but, as Chapter 5’s discussion of satellite ownership showed, this distinction has become ever more difficult to make. The next largest category is military (18%), which includes the early JSSW elint series, Earth observation missions (Yaogan, Zi Yuan, Feng Huo, Shentong), and the numerous Shi Jian 6 and 11 and Shi Jian 12 demonstrator, even though their precise purpose is uncertain. Third comes the recoverable satellite program (11%), which would have been a much more dominant part of the program had these calculations been made in the 1990s, but it has since fallen in significance. The proportions of the remaining categories are remarkably similar: micro-satellites, scientific, navigation, meteorological, and Earth resources (in the range 7-9%). The manned part of the program, although the most visible and the most heavily invested in, is actually the smallest proportion of the total (5%). Compared to earlier years, we are left with the impression of a program that is now much more broadly based.


Encouraged by his success with the missile, Tsien Hsue Shen worked hard to revive the canceled satellite project. Following Yuri Gagarin’s flight around the Earth in April 1961, Tsien organized a series of symposia which discussed spaceflight and reported on the progress of other nations. The following year, he convened a 50- strong satellite design team under Zhu Yilin in the Shanghai Institute of Machine and Electrical Design (SIMED) and, in 1963, the Academy of Sciences formed a Commission on Interplanetary Flight. The following year, the Academy of Sciences in Beijing established a committee to investigate the desirability of a man-made satellite, which sat for a year. Proposals from Tsien and his colleague Zhao Jiuzhang to revive the satellite project circulated over 1964-65 through party, military, and government. The Academy of Sciences presented, in July 1965, a Proposal on the Plan and Program of Development Work of Our Artificial Satellite. Sensing a favorable wind, they proposed not just a satellite, but a space program. The satellite was approved by Prime Minister Zhou Enlai and the central committee on 10th August 1965, stipulating that the satellite be visible from the ground and that its signals could be heard all over the world (similar considerations governed the approval of Sputnik) and it was given the new code of project 651.

In what became a standard Chinese practice, a lengthy design conference was held, lasting 42 days – from 20th October to 2nd December 1965 – and called the “651 conference”. This settled the details of the satellite, called the Dong Fang Hong 1 (“the east is red”), its weight (170 kg), orbit (70°, so that it could be widely seen), size (spherical polyhedron 1 m in diameter), brightness (fifth magnitude star), batteries (20-day supply), and scientific instruments. It was intended to be bigger, better, and more sophisticated than either Sputnik or America’s Explorer that opened the space age.

Building the launcher was a challenge at least as great as that of the satellite itself. The size and power of the Dong Feng rocket were far short of those required to reach orbit. Over the 1960s, the Chinese gradually developed the descendants of the

DF-1 to the point that the DF-4 could be developed into a satellite launcher. Called the Long March 1, it was essentially a three-stage version of the Dong Feng 4 medium-range missile developed over 1965-70 – a weapon planned to hit targets as far away as the mid-Pacific. On top of the DF-4, a small third-stage solid-rocket motor stage was fitted to get the satellite into orbit. The Long March 1 was 29.45 m long, 2.25 m in diameter, 79 tonnes in weight, and able to launch a satellite of 300 kg into an orbit of 440 km at 70°. The first two stages, 17 and 5 m tall, respectively, used storable fuels, UDMH (unsymetrical dimethyl methyl hydrazine), mixed with nitric acid – the approach favored by Russia’s greatest engine designer, Valentin Glushko. These fuels have the advantage of being powerful, storable on the pad for lengthy periods, and igniting on contact with one another, but the disadvantage of being toxic, requiring careful handling, and being capable of inflicting horrible burns in the case of accidents. The third stage, the GF-02, was a small engine using a solid – fuel motor and was 4 m tall and 0.77 m in diameter.

Once again, the project was overtaken by political events, for, in March 1966, Mao Zedong launched the cultural revolution. This had a profound effect, as the country was overrun by seething political factions and militants (the red guards).

FIRST SATELLITE: DONG FANG HONGScientists involved in the project were dismissed, killed, sent for re-education in the countryside, forced to sign confessions (in­cluding Tsien), or driven to suicide (Zhao Jiuzhang). The red guards campaigned against project 651, publishing the slo­gan “when the satellite goes up, the red flag goes down”. Zhou Enlai eventually put the satelhte project under martial law and its scientists under military protec­tion in an attempt to save it from the worst of the excesses of the

revolution. When Zhou Enlai died several years later, person­nel in the space industry turned out in vast numbers to mourn him, placing wreaths and poems in his honor in Tiananmen Square, despite large-scale inti­midation by the red guards.

The Long March 1, used to launch China’s first satellite.


Zhou Enlai at early Jiuquan. Zhou was the leading patron of the space program.


Tsien Hsue Shen at early Jiuquan.


Dong Fang Hong, China’s first satellite.


Zhou Enlai attending a space launch: “We did this through our own unaided efforts.”

The scientists were not able to get the satellite and launcher ready until 24th April 1970. Tsien Hsue Shen and Zhou Enlai were in constant telephone contact between Jiuquan and Beijing as the countdown began that evening. The clouds parted to reveal stars winking in the darkness and China’s first Earth satellite ascended from Jiuquan on a 500-m orange tail of flame that bent over the desert of Gansu and headed towards the South China Sea. The first stage burned for 140 sec, dropping away so that the second could fire for 120 sec and, at the top of its trajectory, the small third-stage motor fired to kick it into orbit. As a tribute to the revolution, the scientific instruments had been removed, replaced by a tape recorder powered by a chemical battery playing the anthem “The East Is Red”. Tsien Hue Shen and his colleagues gathered on the still-hot launch pad, some cheering, some dancing, some even crying. Tsien made an impromptu speech. His life’s dream had at last come true in the deserts of north-west China.

Zhou Enlai personally insisted that a small note be added to the press communique: “We did it through our own unaided efforts.” This was true, for China was, at the time, isolated from much of the rest of the world in science, technology, and even in diplomacy. At 170 kg, it was indeed the biggest first satellite of any of the space powers. Parades were held all over the cities, towns, and villages of China and people vied with each other to be first to see the magnitude + 5 satellite or its + 3.3 rocket in the spring night skies. In Beijing, fireworks were set off, bands played, and colored banners were unfurled. On the Mayday parade in Tiananmen Square a week later, Tsien Hsue Shen stood on the podium along with other Chinese leaders as the band played the same tune as the first satellite was now broadcasting all over the world (signals lasted several weeks). The Dong Fang Hong rocket burned up on 29th December 2000, but the satellite is expected to stay aloft for 100 years, until 2070.


The Long March 4 was developed to fly meteorological satellites (the Feng Yun 1 series) into polar orbit from the new launch site of Taiyuan. It was built in the same plant that designed and constructed the Feng Bao in Shanghai, providing it with much-needed replacement work. As was the case with the Long March 3, it was a derivative of the first two stages of the Long March 2, but with a totally new third stage and engines (YF-40). For the CZ-4, Chinese rocket designers stretched the





40 m

38.3 m

58.34 m


3.35 m

3.35 m

3.35 m


213 tonnes

237 tonnes

479.8 tonnes


2,960 kN

2,962 kN

5,923 kN


Engines: 4 x YF-20B Length: 15.33 m Mass: 41 tonnes

First stage

Engine: 4 x YF-20A Length: 23.72 m Mass: 151.55 tonnes Thrust: 284 tonnes Bum: 130 sec

Engine: 4 x YF-20B Length: 24.92 m Mass: 187.7 tonnes Thrust: 302 tonnes Burn: 154 sec

Engine: 4 x YF-20B Length: 23.7 m Mass: 196 tonnes Thrust: 326 tonnes Bum: 166 sec

Second stage

Engine: YF-24 Length: 8.387 m Mass: 38.5 tonnes Thmst: 73.2 tonnes

Engine: YF-24B Length: 7.92 m Mass: 38.5 tonnes Thrust: 80 tonnes

Engine: YF-22 Length: 15.52 m Mass: 91.5 tonnes Bum: 295 sec


2,800 kg to 300 km orbit

3,400 kg to 200 km

7,600 kg to 330 km

Note: This and the two subsequent tables use a number of official sources for these details. There are minor variations in the technical information provided, so this is the most representative selection.

CZ-2C first stage by 4 m and the second stage by 3 m. Introduced in 1988, it flew only twice and was replaced 10 years later by an improved version, the Long March 4B, which put the third polar weather satellite into orbit (Feng Yun 1-3) with the small scientific satellite Shi Jian 5. Since then, it has been used for applications missions such as China Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS) and Zi Yuan. The Long March 4B used a more powerful, restartable third stage, with a 3% greater thrust level and longer burn time. Its capacity is 4.2 tonnes to low Earth orbit or 2.8 tonnes to polar orbit. The 4B is slightly taller on the pad – 44.1 m compared to 41.9 m.

The CZ-4C was introduced on Yaogan 3 on 12th November 2007, the new rocket having a multiple restart upper stage, a structural rung between the first two stages, and a new shroud (many Western records give Yaogan 1 as the first flight of the CZ – 4C, but the official source of the day gave it the 4B). The restartable upper stage would give China the ability to reach higher orbits more precisely while the structure would enable it to carry heavier payloads. Details are given in Table 3.6.





52.52 m

54.838 m

54.838 m


3.35 m

3.35 m

3.35 m


241 tonnes

427.3 tonnes

345 tonnes


2,962 kN

5,923 kN

4,440 kN


Engine: 4 x YF-20B Length: 15.326 m Mass: 41.2 tonnes Thmst: 305 tonnes Bum: 125 sec

Engine: 2 x YF-20B Length: 15.326 m Mass: 41 tonnes Thrust: 302 tonnes Burn: 127 sec

First stage

Engine: 4 x YF-21B Length: 26.972 m Mass: 182.83 tonnes Thrust: 296.16 tonnes Bum: 146 sec

Engine: 4 x YF-21B Length: 23.272 m Mass: 180.3 tonnes Thmst: 302 tonnes Bum: 146 sec

Engine: 4 x YF-21B Length: 26.972 m Mass: 179 tonnes Thrust: 326 tonnes Burn: 155 sec

Second stage

Engine: 4 x YF-24B Length: 7.826 m Mass: 34.963 tonnes Thrust: 73.2 tonnes Bum: 110 sec

Engine: YF-24B Length: 9.943 m Mass: 55.6 tonnes Thmst: 73.2 tonnes Bum: 185 sec

Engine: YF-22 Length: 9.47 m Mass: 55 tonnes Thmst: 76 tonnes Burn: 190 sec

Third stage

Engine: 2 x YF-75 Length: 8.835 m Mass: 21.257 tonnes Thrust: 16 tonnes Bum: 480 sec

Engine: 2 x YF-75 Length: 12.375 m Mass: 21.7 tonnes Thmst: 16 tonnes Bum: 470 sec

Engine: 2 x YF-75 Length: 12.38 m Mass: 21.257 tonnes Thrust: 15.6 tonnes Burn: 480 sec


2.6 tonnes to GTO

5.5 tonnes to GTO

3.9 tonnes to GTO