China launches a test satellite for mining asteroids with a hunting net on board

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China launches a test satellite for mining asteroids with a hunting net on board
China launches a test satellite for mining asteroids with a hunting net on board

This afternoon, the Celestial Empire launched nine satellites into the sun-synchronous orbit using the Changzheng-6 launch vehicle at once. Among them was a demonstrator of NEO-1 technologies from Origin Space, which is developing methods for extracting resources in space. The device carries on board a target, which, during its test mission, it will have to release, and then catch with a net.

The Changzheng-6 rocket, aka CZ-6, or literally, Long March 6, launched from the Taiyuan Cosmodrome in Shanxi province on Tuesday, April 27, at 11:20 am local time (6:20 am Moscow time). An hour later, the Chinese Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the state space agency of the Celestial Empire, reported on a successful launch, according to SpaceNews.

The most technologically interesting satellite under the fairing of this CZ-6 was NEO-1. The device was created by the Shanghai company ASES Spaceflight Technology by order of the Origin Space startup from Shenzhen. Its goal is to work out a technique for capturing unguided objects in near-earth orbit. To do this, NEO-1 has a test target with a spiral pattern, a real space fishing net and an electric rocket propulsion system. Additionally, several auxiliary and one main wide-angle cameras are installed on the satellite.

The test date has not yet been announced, and Chinese resident companies rarely announce such events in advance, they simply report on the results (usually only successful ones). But it is known that according to the plan, NEO-1 must release a target, and then catch it with a net and lower it into a lower orbit. Thus, Origin Space wants to demonstrate that it has the ability to track, identify, capture and control any small space object. Naturally, there are limits on speed and weight, but for a start, it is not a bad thing to successfully complete such an exercise.

Satellite NEO-1 / © Origin Space

In the future, Origin Space plans to launch NEO-2 to the Moon to test the operation of its technologies outside of Earth orbit. And the NEO-X probe will attempt to capture a real asteroid in the uncertain future. In addition, another test device of the company - Yang Wang 1 ("Look up" or "Look up") will go into space this year. In his arsenal will be two telescopes (ultraviolet and visible) to search for near-Earth asteroids.

Fairing neighbors

Experimental satellite NEO-1 is far from the main "passenger" of the Changzheng-6 rocket in this mission. The main payload of the carrier in today's launch was represented by three vehicles: Qilu-1, Qilu-4 and Foshan-1. All of them are designed for Earth remote sensing (ERS). The first - by synthetic aperture radar, the second and third - by optical means, including a panchromatic camera on Foshan-1.

The other five satellites, as well as NEO-1, are either technology demonstrators or experimental vehicles. The Golden Bauhinia-1 and 2 cubesats are remote sensing probes created by ZeroG Lab from Beijing, which specializes in micro- and nanosatellites. Guotong-1 and Taijing-2-01 have a similar purpose, only different optical instruments. The devices are produced by two more startups from the Middle Kingdom, which are testing the technologies that they are going to offer in the growing market of modern commercial astronautics. Finally, the Tianqi-9 satellite, also developed by ASES, is designed to provide connectivity to IoT devices.

Satellite NEO-1 / © Origin Space

And this flight of "Changzheng-6" itself is notable for the fact that it serves as a kind of announcement about the beginning of commercial launches by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC).With the help of this subsidiary, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation plans to provide services for the launch of small satellites in the international market. They even came up with a new brand for this - Long March Express.

New generation rocket launch

Despite the rather modest characteristics of Changzheng-6, the Celestial Empire is sincerely proud of its launch. This rocket belongs to a new generation of Chinese carriers, which also includes the CZ-5 (heavy class) and CZ-7 (middle class). Unlike the actively operated CZ-2, CZ-3 and CZ-4, they use non-toxic and expensive high-boiling fuel components (asymmetric dimethylhydrazine with nitrogen tetroxide), and cheaper, environmentally friendly and safe - hydrogen, oxygen, kerosene and hydrogen peroxide (depending on the step).

What is noteworthy, commenting on today's launch of Changzheng-6, CASC named it the sixteenth, although judging by data from open sources, the rocket had flown only four times before. Probably, the state corporation counted all the flights of the carriers of the family - if you add up the known launches of CZ-5, CZ-6 and CZ-7, the numbers coincide. Or we all do not know something, of course.


CZ-6 launch / © CASC

The sixth "Long March" refers to the light class of missiles. This carrier is capable of putting up to a ton of payload into a sun-synchronous orbit. Its first stage is a modified side accelerator from Changzheng-5 with one kerosene-oxygen engine instead of two. The second stage uses the same fuel vapor. But the third stage (upper stage) is equipped with engines that use hydrogen peroxide as an oxidizer (fuel is also kerosene). Note that, according to other sources, the upper stage is still classical for Chinese astronautics, that is, it uses high-boiling propellant components.

As part of the development of the CZ-6, it is planned to create two more versions of the rocket. One will receive side boosters and an enlarged first stage, which will allow four times as much cargo to be injected into low-earth orbit. And the second will be reusable - its first stage will be taught to return to the Earth's atmosphere. The landing method has not yet been announced, but it is not a fact that they are using a solution similar to that implemented by SpaceX in its Falcon 9.

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