China is preparing to launch two Jilin-1 Earth observation satellites aboard a Long March 11 from a modified freighter stationed in the Yellow Sea. The launch will be China’s first from a floating platform.
The four-stage solid-fueled Long March 11 will be launched on June 5, with a recently published public notice indicating a launch window of between 03:46 UTC and 06:06 UTC. If the launch is carried out successfully, the rocket’s upper stage will place the two Jilin-1 Earth observation satellites into a sun-synchronous orbit.
Launching rockets from a floating platform is not a new concept. The Russian launch services provider, Sea Launch was founded in 1995 and launched 36 mission between 1999 and 2014. The company launched a modified version of the Zenit-2S rocket referred to as the Zenit-3L from a “mobile maritime launch platform”, essentially a modified floating platform that is traditionally used for drilling oil.
Although launching from a floating mobile platform presents a number of challenges, it also comes with a number of benefits. These launches reduce the need to launch over populated areas, reducing risk to civilian populations. It also almost negates conflicts with ships or overhead traffic that would traditionally constrain launch activities. These launches also provide additional mission benefits like the ability to reach any orbital inclination thus, for example, combining the benefits of both Cape Canaveral and Vandenberg.