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CAS Space, a Beijing-based rocket company owned by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, has started designing what it hopes will be the world’s most powerful solid propellant carrier rocket. The rocket, called ZK 2 is in the research and development phase in Beijing laboratories and will be ready for its first flight before the end of 2022.
The ZK 2 will have a central stage and two side boosters, each with a diameter of 2.65 meters and using solid propellants. The rocket will be 39.7 meters high and have a takeoff weight of 343 metric tons. It will be able to carry satellites with a combined weight of 3.55 tonnes in a sun-synchronous orbit 700 kilometers above Earth.
These specifications would make the ZK 2 the largest and most powerful solid fuel rocket in the world, and even more powerful than several liquid propellant models in China’s Long March rocket fleet, such as the Long March 2C and 4B.
The world’s most powerful operational solid-fuel rocket is Arianespace’s Vega, jointly developed by the Italian Space Agency and the European Space Agency. With a takeoff mass of 137 tonnes, the European rocket can place payloads weighing 1.4 tonnes in a sun-synchronous orbit.
The main customers of the ZK 2 will be satellite companies wishing to build and operate a low orbit satellite network. The rocket is suitable for the deployment of such networks, as it can launch a large number of small satellites in a single flight.
The rocket will have better flexibility than large liquid propellant rockets because it is designed for land and sea launches. Liquid fuel rockets are not suitable for missions at sea. In addition, when launched from a land facility, solid rockets are less dependent on ground devices and are therefore easier to launch.
CAS Space is currently preparing for the first flight of its first product, the ZK 1A solid propellant rocket, which is expected to launch six small satellites in the second half of the year. The 31-meter spacecraft will be able to place satellites weighing 1.33 tonnes in a sun-synchronous orbit.
If the launch is successful, the ZK 1A will replace the Long March 11 as China’s most powerful solid fuel rocket. The company is working with the government of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, to build a 40-hectare production complex in Nansha District. As China’s southernmost carrier rocket production facility, the complex will have an initial annual production capacity of 30 rockets upon completion of the first phase next year.
Compared to other rocket manufacturers, CAS Space has optimized more efficient and economical design, procurement and manufacturing procedures. The company uses the latest technology and highly integrated equipment on its rockets, ensuring lower costs and fewer problems in design, production and launch operations.
Recently, China has paid great attention to applications of space technologies, such as satellite applications. As reported by OpenGov Asia, a Chinese weather satellite, Fengyun-3E (AF-3E), will be the world’s first meteorological satellite in a dawn-twilight orbit. The satellite was designed and built by the Chinese aerospace company. The satellite has successfully passed a factory exam in Shanghai, which brings it one step closer to launching into space.
A dawn-twilight orbit is a sun-synchronous orbit where the satellite follows but never moves in the shadow of the Earth. Because the satellite is close to shadow, the part of the Earth directly above it is always at sunset or sunrise, hence the name “dawn-dusk orbit”. As the sunlight is always shining on the satellite, it can constantly use its solar panels. Once in orbit, the FY-3E will enhance China’s capabilities in weather forecasting, climate change responses, and disaster prevention and reduction. The FY-3E will also be capable of performing environmental and ecological monitoring, space weather forecasts and early warnings.