Thursday, September 22, 2011

China launches ChinaSat-1A, military applications suspected

One launch at a time, China is building its constellation of eyes in the sky. The latest addition, sent into orbit on Sunday, has transmission, data relay, and tracking capabilities

With no prior announcement, China on 18 September launched the ChinaSat-1A (Zhong Xing-1A; ZX-1A, 中星1) vehicle into orbit, which analysts say could serve as a communications relay vehicle for the People’s Liberation Army.

The 11,500-pound ZX-1A was launched into geosynchronous orbit on a Long March 3B/E (長征3B/E) rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC/ LC-2) in Sichuan Province. The satellite has an orbital high point of 22,200 miles, a low point of almost 120 miles and an inclination of 27 degrees, US military tracking data shows.

While Chinese state media say the ZX-1A will provide high-quality voice communication, broadcast and data transmission services for users across China, Western analysts believe the vehicle could serve the Chinese military by providing secure digital data and voice communication to its military forces.

The ZX-1A was designed and manufactured by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp and has a lifespan of 15 years. The satellite is equipped with three receiver antennas and two transmission antennas.

Reports say the satellite could be the Chinese military’s first communications satellite to use the Dongfanghong-4 (DFH-4) bus, China’s most advanced standardized platform for communications missions. In addition to high capacity broadcast communication, DFH-4 buses reportedly also have tracking and data relay capabilities, along with strong capabilities against hostile disturbance and jamming.

The ZX-1A is been referred to as a second-generation Fenghuo (FH) tactical communications satellite. The FH series are believed to be Chinese military comsats and data relay satellites providing both C-band and UHF communication. The first FH satellite, the ZX-22, launched on 25 January 2000, was the first of a series of military communications satellites for China’s Qu Dian C4I system for PLA ground forces.

Sunday’s launch was China’s 10th this year, of which nine have been successful. A launch failure in August destroyed the Shi Jian 11-04 military satellite.

This article was meant to appear in Jane’s Defence Weekly but had to be shelved as this week’s issue was already over budget. A freebie for you readers.

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