Recently, the PRC has made an effort to sell low-earth orbit satellite launches:
* The PRC has entered into contracts with Motorola for the launch of Iridium satellites, including a contract to launch replacement satellites. Iridium satellites have been successfully launched six times on the Long March 2C/SD (that is, the Long March 2C with a "Smart Dispenser" (SD) stage added). The "Smart Dispenser" allows the PRC to launch two Iridium satellites into orbit at a time.
* The PRC has pursued a contract with Loral for the launch of Globalstar satellites. The PRC offered a version of its Long March 2E equipped with a "Top Stage" (TS) that would dispense twelve Globalstar satellites. While Loral had originally contracted for a launch on the Long March 2E/TS, it cancelled that contract following the crash of the Long March 3B in February 1996.
The PRC's Future Space Launch Capabilities
The PRC also recognizes the importance of space in future conflicts, for purposes that include both command and control, and military reconnaissance. The PRC is believed to be developing a new, larger rocket that will be able to carry larger payloads into orbit.
PRC papers have discussed the use of cryogenic liquid propellant engines for this future rocket. One of the engines the PRC could use is the RD-120. The PRC is known to have acquired at least one of these engines from Russian during the 1990s.69 The RD-120 is a liquid oxygen/kerosene engine that is used on the second stage of the Zenit rocket, which is used on the multinational Sea Launch program.
Difficulties with the development of the new engines for this rocket may have prompted the PRC to focus, in the nearer term, on the proposed Long March 2E(A) and Long March 3B(A) versions of the Long March rocket that will utilize improved strap-on boosters to achieve greater payload-to-orbit capability. It should be noted that these are the two systems that were the subject of the failure review investigations in which Loral and Hughes participated. See Chapter 2 for a detailed discussion of how these failure reviews assisted the PRC.
PRC Space Weapons
The PRC is believed to be developing space-based and ground-based anti-satellite laser weapons. Such weapons would be of exceptional value for the control of space and information. The Select Committee judges that the PRC is moving toward the deployment of such weapons.
Based on the significant level of PRC-Russian cooperation on weapons development, it is possible that the PRC will be able to use nuclear reactors to pump lasers with pulse energies high enough to destroy satellites.
In addition, Russian cooperation could help the PRC to develop an advanced radar system using lasers to track and image satellites.
The Select Committee judges that the PRC has the technical capability to develop direct ascent anti-satellite weapons. The CSS-2 could be modified for use in this role. This would be similar to the approach taken by the Soviets with their SS-9 ASAT system.
The PRC's Manned Space Program
The PRC has conducted research since the 1950s, including biological and life support research, on placing astronauts into orbit. Pursuant to its 921 Project, the PRC's plans since the 1980s have included concepts for Space Shuttle-like spacecraft, recoverable capsules, and a space station.70
In 1996, two PRC astronauts began training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, Star City, Russia. The PRC appears set to launch these two astronauts into space sometime this year to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Communist rule in China.
For its manned space program, the PRC will use Soyuz capsules purchased during Yeltsin's visit to the PRC in April 1996. A Soyuz capsule will be carried on top of the Long March 2E, using a payload shroud (that is, a fairing) equipped with a launch escape system. (See Chapter 5, Satellite Launches in the PRC: Hughes for a discussion of fairing improvements to the Long March 2E.)
If the PRC is successful in placing men in orbit, it will be only the third nation, after Russia and the United States, to have done this.
The PRC's Communications Satellite Programs
Since the beginning of its domestic communications satellite programs, the PRC has suffered a string of problems with the performance of its communications satellites, as well as the rockets designed to place those satellites into orbit.
During the mid-to-late 1980s, the PRC was able to place four of its communications satellites into geosynchronous orbit. Today, however, the PRC has only one active domestically-manufactured telecommunications satellite on orbit. This satellite has reportedly suffered on-orbit problems that may have reduced its capabilities.71
The PRC's inability to place reliable communications satellites (COMSATs) into orbit has created serious gaps in the PRC's satellite communications capabilities, both for civilian and military purposes. The PRC has addressed the greatest part of its satellite communications requirement by leasing communications channels on Western-manufactured communications satellites.
The PRC first began developing its own communications satellites in the early 1970s, based on Western technology. All of these satellites were designed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) for military purposes. They have all been operated by China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General (CLTC), which is subordinate to COSTIND.72
The PRC's inability to design and produce advanced communications satellites has also led it to seek Western components and technology for its domestic communications satellite industry. The Select Committee judges that the use of Western technology cut in half the time required for the PRC to progress from an experimental communications satellite to the advanced DFH-3 satellites, which were first launched in 1994.
The following table shows a chronology of the PRC's history of launching PRC communications satellites.
History of the PRC's Domestic
Communications Satellite Launches
PRC SatelliteDate PRC RocketResult
DFH-2Jan. 29, 1984 Long March 3Rocket Failure
DFH-2Apr. 8, 1984 Long March 3Success
DFH-2Feb. 1, 1986 Long March 3Success
DFH-2AMar. 7, 1988 Long March 3Success
DFH-2ADec. 22, 1988 Long March 3Success
DFH-2AFeb. 4, 1990 Long March 3Success
DFH-2ADec. 28, 1991 Long March 3Rocket Failure
DFH-3Nov. 29, 1994 Long March 3A Satellite Failure
DFH-3May 11, 1997 Long March 3ASatellite Problem
The PRC's first generation communications satellite was the Dong Fang Hong-2 ("East is Red"). These satellites were designed to provide the PRC with test experience. The satellite design was similar to that used on the Hughes HS376 satellites, employing a spin-stabilized body and a de-spun horn antenna.
The first attempt to launch a DFH-2 satellite, in January 1984, was not successful due to the failure of the Long March 3 rocket that was to carry it into orbit. The second launch attempt on April 8, 1984 successfully placed a communications satellite into orbit. A third DFH-2 satellite was launched on February 1, 1986. This satellite provided communications services until it reached the end of its service life.
In 1988, the PRC launched an improved version of this satellite, known as the DFH-2A. The new satellite used the same spin-stabilized body, this time equipped with an improved antenna array that increased the number of communications channels available.
These satellites were able to handle five television channels and 3,000 phone calls simultaneously. The first three of these satellites were named "Chinasats" by the PRC, and were successfully launched twice in 1988 and once in 1990. A fourth DFH-2A satellite launch in 1990 was unsuccessful, when the failure of the rocket's third-stage engine left the satellite stranded in an incorrect orbit.
The PRC's third generation communications satellites, known as the DFH-3, are the PRC's most modern communication satellites. The DFH-3 is useful for military communications. These satellites have three-axis stabilized bodies, 24 C-band transponders and are designed to have an 8-year on-orbit life. Due to the increased weight of these satellites as compared to the DFH-2A, the DFH-3 satellites are launched on the more capable Long March 3A rocket.
The first launch of the DFH-3 satellite on November 29, 1994 was unsuccessful when the satellite failed to attain the proper orbit, rendering it useless for its intended communications function.
The PRC's second attempt to launch a DFH-3 satellite on May 11, 1997 successfully placed the satellite into a geosynchronous orbit at 125 degrees east longitude.73 The PRC, however, reportedly may have suffered problems with the satellite.74
The PRC's Use of Foreign Components on Communications Satellites
The PRC's limited communications satellite construction capabilities led it from the first to seek Western manufacturers for reliable components. Even the PRC's most modern communications satellite, the DFH-3, which was first successfully launched in 1997, contains a large number of Western components:
* The DFH-3 is reported to use a control processor built by Matra-Marconi75
* Messerschmitt Boelkow Blohm (MBB) provided the DFH-3 solar panel substrates to the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), and CAST-produced solar cells were mounted on them. The solar panel assemblies were then returned to MBB for assembly into deployable solar arrays76
* Daimler Chrysler Aerospace Group provided the DFH-3's antenna assembly, consisting of a deployable dual gridded reflector, feed and interconnecting structure77
* Officine Galileo provided the Infrared Earth sensor to determine pitch/roll in geosynchronous orbit78
* The DFH-3's payload test equipment, according to 1993 reports, consisted of five racks and consoles with 80% U.S. Hewlett Packard and German equipment
* The equipment racks for the test equipment were provided by Germany's Ant Corporation79possible
PRC Assistance to North Korea
The PRC, through the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), provides complete satellites and technology to other nations. On August 31, 1998, North Korea launched a three stage Taepo Dong-1 ballistic missile. The North Koreans claim to have launched their first satellite, known as Kwangmyongsong No. 1 (Bright Star 1), on this Taepo Dong-1 missile. Comparing the picture of the Kwangmyongsong No. 1 satellite released by North Korea with that of the PRC's Dong Fang Hong 1 satellite. The two bear a striking resemblance.
Several U.S. companies have also marketed their communications satellite technologies to the PRC. Loral, for example, offered the PRC a direct broadcast satellite (DBS) capability in 1996 using either a Loral-produced satellite bus or the DFH-3 series satellite bus.80 A 1995 Memorandum of Agreement between Loral and China Aerospace Corporation offered the PRC direct broadcast satellites, regional mobile satellite services systems, and the joint development of an advanced high capacity communications satellite. Under this agreement, Loral would provide design and technical support, while the final integration of the satellite was to have occurred in Germany or the PRC.81
Hughes and Loral competed for the Asia-Pacific Mobile Telecommunications (APMT) satellite. APMT is a Singapore-based, PRC controlled company. At least 51% of APMT is owned by PRC Government agencies, including China Aerospace Corporation, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General, and Chinasat, a subsidiary of the PRC Ministry of Post and Telecommunications.82 See the Asia-Pacific Mobile Telecommunications Satellite section of this chapter, below.
The PRC's Reliance on Commercial Communications Satellites
Due to the failures of the PRC's rockets, and of its satellites, the PRC has become dependent on Western-manufactured communications satellites.
The PRC's dependency began as the early DFH-2A satellites reached the end of their on-orbit lives, while the fourth DFH-2A satellite failed to reach orbit. This created a gap in the PRC's satellite communications capabilities. As a result, the PRC was forced to look to foreign communications satellite manufacturers for supplemental capacity.
In December 1992, the PRC purchased Spacenet 1 on-orbit from GTE to replace its aging DFH-2A/1 and DFH-2A/2 satellites. The PRC renamed it "ChinaSat-5." This satellite was to provide supplemental capabilities until the PRC's first DFH-3 satellite was launched in 1994. The failure of the PRC's first DFH-3 satellite to reach orbit, and the imminent expiration of the useful life of ChinaSat-5, forced the PRC to purchase a Hughes HS-376 satellite to provide additional communications channels. But this satellite launch in August 1996, aboard a Long March 3 rocket, was also a failure. The third stage left the satellite stranded in an unusable orbit.83 The second DFH-3 satellite that the PRC launched in May 1997 reportedly has now developed on-orbit problems.