China Satcom launched its latest GEO satellite, Chinasat 18, last week. The first of the third-generation DFH-4 craft, it was sent into space using a Long March 3B launcher. However, despite initial reports that the satellite had arrived in its correct geosynchronous orbit, it has since been experiencing ‘anomalies’.
The launch of Chinasat 18
Originally scheduled for launch in the first quarter of 2019, Chinasat 18’s take off was pushed back to August earlier this year. The satellite is a large GEO vehicle, destined to provide civilian telecommunication services including rural broadband and inflight connectivity.
The launch last week was undertaken by a Long March 3B launcher, the most powerful vehicle on the Chinese space fleet. Normally capable of launching up to 5,100kg into a geosynchronous transfer orbit, this particular vehicle was the 3B/G2 version, enhanced to increase its capacity up to 5,500kg.
— LaunchStuff (@LaunchStuff) August 19, 2019
The satellite was launched on Monday 19th August from the Xichang space center in Sichuan, Southwest China. The Long March 3B launcher successfully took off at 20:03 local time. Following this, separation into the correct geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) was confirmed.
However, shortly after separation, it was reported by Xinhua that the satellite was experiencing ‘anomalies’, and that engineers were investigating. According to Seradata, recovery attempts are now underway.
Chinasat 18, or Zhongxing-18, is a large Ku and Ka band communications satellite owned by China Satcom. built by the Chinese Academy of Space Technology, it is based on a DFH-4E bus. The dimensions of the satellite are 2.36m x 2.1m x 3.6m and its launch mass was 5,200kg.
According to NASA Space Flight, the vessel has 30 Ku-band transponders on board, plus 14 Ka-band and two Ka BSS band transponders. It would, therefore, be able to provide voice, data and multimedia connectivity, including video processing a high data rate internet applications.
Zhongxing-18 (ChinaSat-18) communications satellite appears ready after testing. Is based on a DFH4-E sat platform and will launch on a Long March 3B/E from Xichang later this year. Image source: https://t.co/CBST0OdbD7 Viasat & inflight connectivity info: https://t.co/nse8LqPYyK pic.twitter.com/nsQU2NQuM6
— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) July 10, 2019
Once launched, it should have been able to provide connectivity for 15 years or more. Seradata reports that the satellite was insured to the value of $250m.
Many other DFH-4 satellites have been successfully launched, with more than 20 in orbit today. However, two have notably suffered failure, prematurely ending their service.
Sinosat 2, launched in 2006, failed to deploy its solar arrays. Also, in 2007, NIGCOMSAT 1 also had a failure of its solar array. However, of the DFH-4E satellites, of which Chinasat 18 is one, only one other has been built. APStar 6D, owned by APT Satellite Company Ltd, is due to be launched later in 2019.
A blow to China Satcoms partners
The deployment of Chinasat 18 marked an expansion of China Satcom’s coverage across the nation. One partner set to benefit from this was Viasat, who earlier this year announced a partnership to provide inflight connectivity to airline passengers in Chinese airspace.
Passengers on Viasat connected aircraft were to be allowed to roam onto China Satcom’s network when in Chinese airspace, and conversely passengers on China Satcom equipped aircraft would be able to roam globally on the Viasat network.
Aside of Viasat, Israel based networking specialist Gilat were also involved in the project. According to a press release, Gilat was to provide the ground network for Chinasat 18 and its sister satellite, Chinasat 16.
For China Satcom, the successful deployment of Chinasat 18 would have completed the company’s HTS Ka-band coverage over all of China. The loss of the satellite must come as a significant blow to the company.