China launches new rocket for commercial use

Smart Dragon-1 rocket carrying three satellites lifts off from the launch pad at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu (Reuters photo)

China's new carrier rocket, designed for commercial use, made its maiden flight on Saturday, sending three satellites into the planned orbit.

The Smart Dragon-1 (SD-1), developed by the China Rocket Company affiliated to the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT), blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in northwest China at 12:11 pm local time.

The three satellites, developed by three separate Beijing-based companies, will be used for remote sensing services, communication and Internet of Things (IoT), state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

Different from the previous carrier rockets of the Long March family, the new Dragon series is developed in a commercial mode to meet the market demand of launching small commercial satellites, CALVT chief Wang Xiaojun said.

The SD-1 -- with a total length of 19.5 metres, a diameter of 1.2 metres and a take-off weight of about 23.1 tonnes -- is a small-scale solid-propellant carrier rocket capable of sending 200 kg payloads to the solar synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 km.

"It has the highest carrying efficiency among China's current commercial solid-propellant rockets," Gong Min, technical manager of the SD-1 project, said.

It took less than 18 months to develop SD-1, which is the shortest period to develop a new type of carrier rocket in China, the report said.

The designers of SD-1 have made efforts to lower the costs and improve the efficiency and reliability of the rocket, China Rocket Company Ltd president Tang Yagang said.

One such rocket can be produced in six months after business agreements are signed with customers. After the rocket is transported to the launching centre, the launch can be realized within 24 hours. The rocket can be used for launching either single satellite or multiple satellites at a time, according to Tang.

Tang said the company mainly relies on social financing to develop SD-1 to lower its cost through competition.

"Commercial launching will have a vast market in the fields such as low-Earth orbit Internet mobile communication and remote sensing," Tang said. 

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