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Spaceports Around the World:
China's Numerous Active Spaceports
China's Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center
Shuang Cheng Tzu
The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, founded in 1958, was China's first spaceport.
The launch center is north of Jiuquan City in Gansu Province in the Gobi desert 1,000 miles west of Beijing, in Inner Mongolia. Western nations called this site Shuang Cheng Tzu.
Jiuquan is a huge base at nearly 1,100 square miles. Its climate permits launches on nearly 300 days a year. However, flights were limited to southeastern launches into 57-70 degree orbits to avoid overflying Russia and Mongolia.
Most Chinese rocket tests and launches over the years have been at Jiuquan. The center blasts off atmospheric sounding rockets and Long March space rockets. It primarily sends satellites into low- and medium-altitude orbits with large orbital inclination angles.
Manned flights take off from this spaceport. Recoverable Earth observation and microgravity missions are launched from Jiuquan.
However, the site's geographical location means most Chinese commercial flights take off from other spaceports.
Jiuquan also tests medium- and long-range military missiles.
Many historic rocket launches have taken off from Jiuquan:
China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center
- China launched its first surface-to-surface missile from Jiuquan on November 5, 1960.
- China conducted its first guided nuclear missile test here on October 27, 1966.
- On April 24, 1970, China became the fifth nation to launch an artificial moon to orbit above Earth. That satellite, named Mao-1, rode atop a rocket called Long March-1 in a launch from the Jiuquan Center.
- China launched its first recoverable satellite on November 26, 1975.
- The Shenzhou spacecraft for future use by Chinese astronauts was launched, unmanned, for the first time on November 20, 1999. Shenzhou-2, January 10, 2001. Shenzhou-3, March 25, 2002. Shenzhou-4, December 30, 2002.
- A Long March 2F rocket carried China's first astronaut from Jiuquan to space in Shenzhou-5 on October 15, 2003. The feat made China the third country with that capability.
- China's 20th recoverable satellite for scientific and technological experiments was launched September 27, 2004.
- A Long March 2F rocket carried China's second and third astronauts from Jiuquan to space in Shenzhou-6 on October 12, 2005.
The Xichang Satellite Launch Center is located in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture of the southwestern Sichuan Province, from where China launches powerful rockets and geostationary satellites.
Most television images of rockets blasting upward toward space are shot at this center with its favorable weather and picturesque scenes.
The launch center, built in 1978, is some 40 miles northwest of Xichang City. The first launch here was in 1984. Xichang launches Long March space rockets and offers better access to geostationary orbits than Jiuquan.
The local population lives near the launch pads.
The center has two launch pads – one for sending geostationary communications satellites and meteorological satellites to space on Long March CZ-3 rockets and a second for blasting off other Long March CZ-2 and CZ-3 rockets.
- When the first Long March 3B rocket crashed in 1996 on a hillside a mile from the launch pad, six persons were killed and 57 injured.
- When a Long March 2E exploded in 1995, debris killed six and injured 23 in a village five miles downrange.
The ideal time for launching satellites from Xichang is from October to May.
Xichang is remembered for having launched China's first experimental communications satellite, first operational communications satellite, and first combined communications and broadcast satellite.
Some notable launches from Xichang:
China's Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center
- The AsiaSat 1 communications satellite was sent to geosynchronous or stationary Earth orbit from Xichang in 1990.
- China's first Long March CZ-2 rocket carried a Pakistani satellite to orbit July 16, 1990.
- The telephone and television communications satellite China Sat-6 was launched to stationary orbit on May 12, 1997.
- China's Beidou navigation and positioning satellites went to orbit Oct. 31, 2000, Dec. 21, 2000, and May 25, 2003.
- The launch of the Zhongxing-20 stationary communications satellite on November 15, 2003, was China's 73rd Long March rocket launch since 1970 and the 32nd consecutive successful launch since October 1996.
- Probe-1, the first scientific satellite in the Sino-European Double Star project, was blasted to space December 30, 2003. The satellite was sent into an elliptical orbit that ranged as far as 50,000 miles away from Earth. That was the deepest into space China had ever sent a spacecraft.
- The small 450-lb. Experimental Satellite 1 and the even smaller 55-lb. Nano-Satellite 1 rode piggyback on a Long March 2C rocket from Xichang on April 18, 2004.
Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, in Kelan County of north China's Shanxi Province, started as test base for missiles and rockets too big to fly from Jiuquan. U.S. Space Command refers to the site as Wuzhai.
Taiyuan was founded in March 1966. Its single space launch pad opened in 1988 for launching Long March 4 space rockets ferrying remote sensing, meteorological, communications and reconnaissance satellites to polar orbits and geostationary orbits.
The launch center is in the mountains at an altitude of 5,000 feet. Dry weather there makes it a good site for the launch of sun-synchronous satellites.
China's first medium-range rocket was launched there in 1968. During the next 20 years, China launched more than 70 medium and long range rockets from Taiyuan.
Some landmark examples for Taiyuan:
China's Hainan Island Satellite Launch Center
- On September 7, 1988, the first Fengyun weather satellite was launched to geostationary orbit. The second was blasted to space on December 3, 1990. Fengyun means "Wind and Cloud."
- The center's first international commercial launch was two Iridium satellites carried to orbit by a Long March 2C rocket on December 8, 1997, for the U.S. company Motorola. By 1999, ten Iridium satellites had been launched.
- China's first marine satellite, HY-1A, was launched from Taiyuan on May 15, 2002.
- A new four-stage, solid-fuel rocket, the Pioneer 1, was launched September 16, 2003.
- A Long March 4B rocket ferried to orbit on October 21, 2003, an Earth resources satellite built jointly with Brazil.
- Probe-2, the second scientific satellite in the Sino-European Double Star project, was blasted to space July 25, 2004.
Hainan Island is off the southern coast of China, separating the South China Sea from the Gulf of Tongking. It is southeast of Hanoi, Vietnam, across the Gulf of Tongking.
The Hainan Space Base, only 19 degrees north of the equator, is used for low-latitude, low-altitude space research launches. Initially, rockets blasting off from Hainan flew only to a height of about 74 miles above Earth.
The Hainan Space Base could become the Hainan Island Satellite Launch Center if the provincial government has its way. Officials are working to persuade the Chinese central government to approve the massive project in Wenchang on the northeast side of the island province, according to China Daily in 2005.
Back on December 19, 1988, the PRC launched a new space rocket from the Hainan Island base. The rocket, known as Weaver Girl 1, named after a Chinese legend, ferried a recoverable satellite to space.
The payload remained in space 2.5 hours, then returned to Earth 40 miles from the launch site. The blast off was the first time Chinese scientists had researched Earth's atmosphere from a low-latitude equatorial launch site.
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