Smart Dragon 3 of China Deploys Satellites from the South China Sea

China’s progress in space exploration and satellite deployment made a significant advancement with the successful launch of the Smart Dragon 3 carrier rocket from a ship off the coast of Yangjiang in Guangdong province. The mission, which occurred on a Saturday morning, successfully placed nine satellites in space, marking a significant milestone for the country’s space program.

The Smart Dragon 3, a product of the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, is a solid-propellant rocket. It was launched into the cloudy skies at 11:07 am, making it the third successful space launch from the South China Sea. The launch was significant because it included the first foreign satellite, the NExSat-1, amongst its cargo. This satellite is an experimental spacecraft built by Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences in collaboration with Berlin Space Technologies in Germany, highlighting the international interest and trust in China’s satellite launch abilities.

The Smart Dragon 3 is a 31 meters tall and 2.65 meters diameter rocket with a lift-off weight of 140 metric tons. It’s powered by a high-performance, solid-propellant engine that can generate a thrust of 200 tons using 71 tons of propellant. The design of the rocket allows it to deliver multiple satellites, with a combined weight of up to 1.5 tons, to a typical sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of 500 kilometers.

The Smart Dragon 3 had its successful maiden flight in December 2022 from a ship in the Yellow Sea, during which it deployed 14 satellites into space. Its second mission in December 2023 marked the first sea-based rocket launch from the South China Sea, further affirming China’s commitment to enhancing its sea-launch capabilities to improve flexibility and efficiency in satellite deployment.

Jin Xin, the project manager for the Smart Dragon 3, expressed that the rocket’s ability for quick, multiple satellite launches makes it a compelling option for clients looking to quickly establish commercial networks in space.

To date, China has conducted ten sea-based launches, diversifying its launch capabilities beyond traditional land-based sites. These include launches by the Long March 11 model, the Smart Dragon 3, the Ceres 1 rocket from Galactic Energy, a private company, and the Gravity 1 from Orienspace, another private firm based in Beijing. With seven launches in the Yellow Sea and three in the South China Sea, China is extending its geographical reach and operational flexibility in space launches.

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