China’s busy spaceflight year continues.
The nation launched its 38th orbital mission of 2022 on Tuesday (Sept. 13), sending the Zhongxing-1E satellite aloft atop a Long March 7A rocket. The launcher lifted off at 9:18 a.m. EDT (1318 GMT; 9:18 p.m. Beijing time) from the Wenchang Space Launch Site on the island of Hainan and successfully delivered its payload to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) as planned, Chinese space officials said (opens in new tab).
Zhongxing-1E was built by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). China has said little about the spacecraft, describing it in general terms as a communications satellite.
Related: China’s Long March rocket family: History and photos
“The vague description of the satellite matches statements for earlier Zhongxing-1 series satellites,” Andrew Jones reported for Space News (opens in new tab). “The lack of information and images of the satellite suggests that the satellite series serves military customers.”
The most recent satellite in the series, Zhongxing-1D, launched in November 2021 atop a Long March 3B rocket from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern China, Jones wrote.
“The switch of launcher and spaceport for the Zhongxing-1E launch, along with wording in a CAST press release (opens in new tab), suggests a larger, heavier satellite bus than earlier satellites,” he wrote, noting that the Long March 3 is considerably less powerful than the 197-foot-tall (60 meters) Long March 7A. “The satellite was also transported by ship from Tianjin to Wenchang, whereas satellites are flown to Xichang.”
But it’s also possible, Jones wrote, that China is simply moving away from the Long March 3B and toward the 7A for launches to GTO. In addition to being less powerful than the 7A, the 3B is considerably older; it debuted in 1996, whereas the 7A’s first successful flight occurred just last year.
China isn’t alone in setting a breakneck launch pace this year. SpaceX has already conducted 41 orbital missions in 2022, most of them devoted to building out its huge Starlink broadband constellation.
Mike Wall is the author of “Out There (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).