China flexed its rapid launch capabilities yesterday successfully launching two orbital missions aboard Kuaizhou-1A rockets within six hours of each other from the same launch facility.
The first mission lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China’s northern province of Shanxi at 02:55 UTC. The rocket carried the Jilin-1 Gaofen 02B remote sensing satellite, which was safely placed into a Sun-synchronous orbit soon after.
Just six hours later at 08:52, the second mission was launched from the Taiyuan facility. The rocket carried six small commercial satellites, including the first batch of two satellites for Chinese aerospace firm HEAD’s Skywalker Constellation. The constellation will be made up of more than 40 satellites and will offer a suite of sensory payloads to customers.
This is the second time in two months that China has looked to show off its remarkable rapid launch capabilities. On November 13, the country launched a Kuaizhou 1A and a Long March 6 within three hours of one another from two separate launch facilities. This latest pair of launches, however, is the first to show a rapid launch capability from a single launch facility.
The ability to launch payloads into orbit at a moment’s notice is a capability long coveted by the world’s superpowers. The capability allows for the rapid replacement of vital military assets in space that would become the primary targets for a well-equipped enemy in a time of war.
Over the past few years, the United States has also been working towards acquiring rapid launch capabilities. Both DARPA and the US Air Force are currently offering contracts to operators that are developing flexible launch systems. There is, however, no such system currently operational to the US.