China sent the Yunhai-3 environmental monitoring satellite into orbit on Friday (November 11), marking the second launch of the country’s new Long March 6A rocket.
Long March 6A lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China at 5:52 p.m. EDT Nov. 11 (2252 GMT; 6:52 a.m. Beijing time Nov. 12), just hours before China launched its latest payload. to her. task to Tiangong Space Station.
The satellite has entered its intended orbit, the Shanghai Aerospace Academy (SAST), the state-owned manufacturer of the launch vehicle, announce (Opens in a new tab) within an hour of launch.
Related: The latest news about the Chinese space program
Little is known about the Yunhai 3 satellite. SAST and Chinese state media said it was designed to conduct atmospheric and marine environment surveys, space environment surveys, disaster prevention and reduction work, and scientific experiments.
Yunhai 3 is now orbiting about 520 miles (840 kilometers) above a land It is in a sun-synchronous orbit, or SSO, which means it passes over the poles and certain points on Earth at the same time each day.
However, one part of the mission that didn’t go according to plan was the performance of the rocket’s upper stage after Yunhai launched 3 into orbit. The spent rocket stage has had a disintegration event and is now in over 50 pieces in a range of heights, adding to the overall threat of space debris in low Earth orbit.
The US Space Force’s 18th Aerospace Defense Squadron announces the disintegration of the Long March 6A upper stage Twitter (Opens in a new tab) On Sunday (November 13). The squadron stated that it was tracking more than 50 linked pieces at an estimated altitude of 310 miles to 435 miles (500 to 700 km) and “merging [this information] In routine coupling evaluation in support of spaceflight safety. “
A number of observations were also made from the ground, showing the disintegration and fragmentation of the rocket stage. The featured pieces roll and spin rapidly, creating flashing patterns as they catch the sun’s rays.
This evening I noticed 43 (!!) pieces of debris from the CZ-6A rocket that crashed into space after it was launched two days ago. All of the pieces were rolling rapidly, giving off very distinct flashing patterns. @18thSDS will have a challenging tracking and fixing of orbitals for all of these. pic.twitter.com/HJCcwsyn1iNovember 13, 2022
The debris is orbiting at an altitude where there are very few particles from Earth’s atmosphere. This means that it will take many years for the fragments to be pushed out of orbit by atmospheric clouds.
The latest numbers from the European Space Agency’s Space Debris Office in Darmstadt, Germany, suggest that there is more than 630 (Opens in a new tab) Breakups, explosions, collisions or anomalous events in orbit leading to fragmentation of spacecraft or space junk.
It is not the first in-orbit fragmentation associated with a Yunhai satellite. The Yunhai 1 (02) satellite was broken into many pieces following a suspect collision With a piece of a Russian missile in March 2021.
Meanwhile, Yunhai 3 remains intact in orbit.
The Long March 6A missile is a bit similar to the smaller Long March 6, although the latter is also manufactured by SAST and launched from Taiyuan. 6A is 164 feet (50 m) tall and the first stage is 11 feet (3.35 m) in diameter. (The 6A rocket, in turn, is smaller than the powerful Chinese Long March 5B rocket, whose 25-ton primary stages return to Earth from an out-of-control orbit after launches.)
The Long March 6A is China’s first rocket to put together a liquid-fuel main stage with four solid-fuel side boosters. First flight In March this year. NASA’s now-retired space shuttle, in particular, used its solid-liquid configuration.
Yunhai 3’s launch was China’s 50th of 2022, with the Tianzhou 5 mission after hours recording its 51st launch. The country is on track to break its national record of 55 launches in a calendar year, which is set in 2021.
Upcoming missions include a fourth mission for a commercial launch company galactic energythe first flight of Jielong 3 (Smart Dragon 3) a rocket — developed by a subsidiary of a major space contractor in China, that will launch from a mobile offshore platform — and the manned Shenzhou 15 mission to the Tiangong space station.
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