A Smart Dragon-3 rocket carrying 14 satellites blasts off at the Yellow Sea Dec. 9, 2022. The commercial rocket blasted off at 2:35 p.m. (Beijing Time). (Photo by Guo Houze/Xinhua)
BEIJING, Dec. 9 (Xinhua) -- China's Smart Dragon-3 (SD-3) carrier rocket made its debut flight at the Yellow Sea on Friday, sending 14 commercial satellites into orbit.
According to its developer, the new solid-propellant spacecraft has not only provided more capacity options for commercial launches but also advanced the country's development of this type of rocket to a new level.
Developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, the four-stage SD-3 is the second member of China's Dragon rocket family. Unlike the Long March rockets, the Dragon series is developed in a commercial mode to meet the growing market demand of launching low-orbit small commercial satellites and satellite networks.
It has a total length of 31 meters, with a maximum diameter of 2.65 meters and a weight of 140 tonnes.
Equipped with two fairings with diameters of 3.35 meters and 2.9 meters, the rocket can meet a variety of satellite installation requirements. It is designed for both land and sea launches.
"The SD-3 has filled many blanks in China's space industry," said Guan Hongren, chief designer of the rocket, who highlighted that it is capable of sending a payload of 1.5 tonnes to sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 km. Its first-stage engine has a thrust of 200 tonnes, the largest used in domestic flight tests.
China launched a Smart Dragon-3 rocket at the Yellow Sea on Friday, placing 14 satellites into planned orbit. The Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center conducted the offshore launch mission. (Photo by Guo Houze/Xinhua)
Apart from more carrying capacity, the rocket can also provide users with more flexible and cost-effective launch services.
According to Jin Xin, chief director of the SD-3 project, it has the advantages of a shorter preparation period and a faster response capability for launches. After the rocket is transported to the scheduled sea area, the launch can happen within 48 hours.
It will have an annual production of 20 rockets and can store three in turnover, realizing frequent and extensive launches at sea.
The rocket's multi-satellite launch capability enables it to carry more than 20 satellites in a single mission, while the cost is no more than 10,000 U.S. dollars per kg, making it competitive in the market, Jin added.
The SD-3 rocket model was put on display to the public at this year's Airshow China in November.
To further meet market needs in the field of commercial space launches, China is planning to develop SD-4, a larger-scale solid-propellant rocket, which will have a 500-km sun-synchronous orbit carrying capacity of 2.5 tonnes.
"We are also exploring the sea launch of liquid-propellant rockets," Jin disclosed.
The first-generation Dragon rocket SD-1 made its maiden flight in August 2019. It is capable of sending 200 kg payloads to the solar synchronous orbit. ■