China's Smart Dragon-3 commercial rocket to make maiden flight in 2022: developer
Published: Mar 03, 2021 06:08 PM
The concept images for Smart Dragon solid-fueled commercial rocket family Photo: Courtesy of China Rocket

The concept images for Smart Dragon solid-fueled commercial rocket family Photo: Courtesy of China Rocket

The Jielong-3, or Smart Dragon-3 (SD-3) solid-fuel launch vehicle, which is capable of sending up to 20 satellites in one go, has gained project approval and is expected to make its maiden flight in 2022, Global Times learned from the developer China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) on Wednesday.

As the latest member of the CALT Smart Dragon commercial rocket family, SD-3 gained its project approval on December 31, 2020, and China will launch the new make through a seaborne platform in the first half of 2022, Jiang Jie, a CALT rocket expert and also a member of the 13th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), China's top advisory body, told the Global Times. 

According to CALT, the 2.64-meter-diameter SD-3 with a 3.35-meter-diameter nose cone is the largest and also the strongest in the Smart Dragon rocket series. It is capable of sending a payload of 1.5 tons to the 500-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

Jiang, who is also an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, revealed that the SD-3 aims to meet the market needs of launching a large-scale commercial satellite constellation, as it is capable of sending as many as 20 satellites in one go.

The rollout of the SD-3 would reduce unit costs of payloads to $10,000 per kilogram, said CALT, highlighting the model's strong market competitiveness. 

The SD-3 has also been fitted with facilities that support both land- and sea-based launches, it added.

Assembly and testing of the SD-3 will be carried out in Haiyang Port in Haiyang, East China's Shandong Province, a site dubbed the "Dongfang space port" specially for sea-based space launches. It is also hoped that the execution of a commercial launch service contract can be shortened to six months, greatly improving rocket launch efficiency, CALT said.

China successfully launched the first SD-1 Y1 commercial rocket on August 17, 2019, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China's Gansu Province.

The SD-1 is capable of sending a payload of 200 kilograms to the 500-kilometer SSO, with a launch cost of $20,000 per kilogram, around 60 percent of that for foreign commercial rocket launches of a similar scale.

After arriving at the launch site, the SD-1 rocket can be made ready within 13 days, compared to its foreign counterparts, which take around 20 days, CALT said on Wednesday.

According to Jiang, the CALT official, the SD-1's second flight is expected to be made in July this year.