China Introduces New Commercial Small Launch Vehicle With Close Military Ties

Kuaizhou-11 Forerunner Image Released by CASIC

Kuaizhou-11 Forerunner
Image Released by CASIC

China is about to introduce a new class of small launch vehicle aimed at entering the growing smallsat market. The new, solid fueled booster is called Kuaizhou-11, or Fast Vessel-11 and should be capable of placing 1,000 kg into a 700 km sun-synchronous orbit. And at least some versions of a closely related booster sport an oddly familiar grid fin arrangement, but one used for launch rather than return.

From the story in China Daily,

The Kuaizhou-11 ” is being developed by the Fourth Academy of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp, a major supplier of missiles to the People’s Liberation Army. Its first launch is planned for late 2016 or early 2017, said Zhang Di, head of the company’s space projects department, at the First China Commercial Launch Forum in Wuhan, Hubei province, on Friday.

“The rocket’s low requirement for launch conditions will help us save a lot of money. We hope to keep the launch cost under $10,000 per kilogram of payload, which means it will be very competitive in the international market,” he said.

Liang Jiqiu, the Kuaizhou rockets’ chief designer at the Fourth Academy, said that the main object of the Kuaizhou-11’s first flight will be to test the capabilities of the rocket itself, but there will also be some room available for piggyback service.”

While ITAR provisions continue to impede China’s ability to re-enter  the large satellite commercial launch market in a major way, the smaller end of the market may offer different, and more promising results. Depending on what your mission is, the cat is pretty much out of the bag regarding the availability of components necessary to produce a thoroughly serviceable small satellite.

The real question may be how long solid smaller rockets over of nationality can compete against a liquid fueled technology base that is rapidly improving. And the answer may be that as long as much of the overhead is being covered by the armaments with which they share so much common, it could be quite a while.

An in-depth article in traces the booster’s close ties to China’s Kinetic Kill Vehicle program which infamously destroyed a retired weather satellite in orbit in 2007, as well as its commonality with that nation’s Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile program, including truck mounted versions which seem to share quite a bit in common with the generic descriptions of the commercial version. If that is the case, the Kuaizhou will likely turn out to be a four stage rocket featuring three solid first stages and a liquid fueled fourth stage that can be integrated with the payload and stored for a rapid launch capability.

Display Model of Grid Fins

Display Model of Grid Fins

Of item of particular interest may be the base mounted grid-fin arrangement which would be used for thrust vector control.

Look familiar?

Closeup of Hypersonic Grid Fins Image Credit: S. Money

Closeup of Hypersonic Grid Fins
Image Credit: S. Money



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3 Comments on "China Introduces New Commercial Small Launch Vehicle With Close Military Ties"

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  1. Zed_Weasel says:

    Kind like the Orbital Minotaur otherwise known as the Peacekeeper ICBM with a new upper stage added.

    Also like the Minotaur, expensive compare to liquid fuel rockets on $ per kg/lb basis.

  2. “three solid first stages and a liquid fueled first stage that can be integrated with the payload”

    should be “liquid fueled fourth stage”?

    Interesting that they’ve gone X-wing. That’s gotta cost ya, but maybe the added mass and complexity trades off in some nice way by avoiding gymballing (not an option on solids, I guess) or verniers. Odd….

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