Images shared by Chinese space program watchers suggest the Long March 7A rocket has been rolled out to its launch pad at the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center for the launch of a secretive “technology verification satellite,” SpaceNews.com reported.
Launch is not expected imminently as no airspace closure notifications have been issued. The opening of the tower suggests training and testing exercises will precede launch, the report said.
A terse notice stating that the Long March 7A was at Wenchang came from a subsidiary of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the country’s main space contractor, which added that the payload for the mission is named “new technology verification satellite-6,” the report said.
The name of the satellite series is apparently new, despite the satellite in question being designated “number 6.”
No indication of the application of the satellite, which will be sent to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), was provided. Geosynchronous orbits are typically used for communications, navigation and meteorology, the report said.
Other uses include warning systems such as America’s SBIRS missile warning system. China does not currently have confirmed early warning satellites.
Delivery of an unspecified launch vehicle to the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan island took place in early January. Ship tracking indicates the components were delivered to Qinglan port by the Yuanwang-21 cargo ship following collection from Tianjin, the report said.
The Long March 7A is understood to be a variant of the standard Long March 7, which has flown twice. The new launcher uses the same 3.35-meter-diameter kerolox core and four 2.25-meter-diameter side boosters but includes an additional hydrolox third stage adopted from the older generation Long March 3B rocket to allow it to send payloads to GTO, the report said.
The Long March 7A launches from the coastal Wenchang spaceport, meaning its flightpath is over the sea. It could potentially replace the older Long March 3B for launches to GTO. The 3B launches from deep inland at Xichang, Sichuan province, and sees spent stages fall on inhabited areas.