Demonstrating the cracking pace of China’s space launch sector, the country launched a pair of rockets at the weekend from the same launch site and just six hours apart.
That follows a pair of launches last month in three hours, although from different sites.
In the latest launches, a Kuaizhou-1A rocket blasted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern province of Shanxi carrying six satellites.
That included satellites for environmental monitoring and emergency communications and for internet of things connectivity.
Six hours earlier, another Kuaizhou-1A rocket blasted off from Taiyuan carrying an Earth-imaging satellite.
According to Chinese TV, this pair of launches in quick succession marked a breakthrough for the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in its rapid launch and emergency launch capabilities.
Last month, China launched another pair of rockets in three hours, although from two different launch centres.
Confirming its place as the world’s second space power, China is set to continue its hectic launch schedule with around 30 state launches next year, not counting commercial launches.
China conducted 39 launches in 2018 – more than anyone else – including one failure and 31 so far in 2019, including two failures, with maybe more to come.
China has big ambitions for its space program. Major planned launches for 2020 include the country’s first interplanetary mission to Mars and the return of lunar samples from the Chang’e-5 mission late in the year.
The test flight of the Long March 5B, a variant of the Long March 5 developed for Earth orbit missions, is expected next year.
A successful test flight is a prerequisite for China to start launching modules for its planned space station around 2021.
SpaceNews reported that while China performs numerous launches, it still trails US and Russia for mass sent to orbit per year.
For launch numbers, the US could catch up in 2020, with SpaceX alone planning 24 launches for its Starlink constellation.
China also has many up and coming private space companies, which appear to be some way behind the state enterprises and big private western space companies.
They are moving up fast thanks to abundant capital and a system that allows private actors to draw on state-developed technology.
In July this year, iSpace became the first such firm to reach orbit. It could follow up with more launches of its Hyperbola-1 rocket next year.
Receive the latest developments and updates on Australia’s space industry direct to your inbox. Subscribe today to Space Connect here.