Chinese Space Activities in the 1990s
Changzheng 2C launch vehicle on the launch pad in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in 1992. The vehicle carried the Swedish scientific satellite Freja on the piggyback of its main payload FSW-1-04
Changzheng 2E launch vehicle on the launch pad in the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. China hoped that the rocket would help the country break into the international commercial satellite launch market, but it suffered from multiple launch failures and was withdrawn from service in 1995
The U.S.-made Austrailian communications satellite Optus B1 in transition to the launch pad inside Changzheng 2E payload fairing
The Beijing Aerospace Control Centre (BACC) became operational in 1998 as part of China's plan to overhaul its space flight command and control network to prepare for the human space flight programme Project 921
This photo, published on the Chinese Internet anonymously in 1999 shortly before the launch , revealed the details of the man-rated launch vehicle Changzheng 2F and its assembly building in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre for the first time
The Chinese space programme saw both progress and setbacks in the 1990s. With the end of the Cold War, the civilian space programme began to expand. The Chinese space industry successfully entered the international commercial satellite launch market, but then suffered from a series of high-profile failures, which had seriously damaged its reputation. This coupled with the U.S. embargo for its satellites to be launched by China, almost forced China out of the commercial launch market completely by the late 1990s.
After years of evaluation and assessment, the human space flight programme was finally given the go-ahead. Astronaut selection began in 1995, and the first unmanned flight test of the Shenzhou spacecraft took place in late 1999.
7 April: China successfully launched Asia 1 geostationary communications satellite from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre using a Changzheng 3 rocket. This was China’s first commercial satellite launch for a foreign customer.
16 July: The Changzheng 2E launch vehicle made its maiden flight from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. The rocket was specifically developed for the commercial launch of foreign geostationary satellites. It was also the first launch from the new Pad 2 of the Xichang launch centre.
22 March: A Changzheng 2E rocket carrying Optus B1, a US-made Australian telecommunications satellite, failed to ignite on the launch pad in the Xichang launch centre. The launch was broadcasted on live television, causing a national embarrassment.
14 August: After some inspection and modification, the Changzheng 2E rocket successfully sent the Optus B1 satellite into the orbit.
21 September: The Chinese leadership officially approved the Project 921, the human space flight programme, with an initial budget of 19 billion RMB (US$3.42 billion). The programme was to be implemented in three phases: Phase-I: To launch 2~3 unmanned flight and 1~2 manned flight missions; Phase-II: To developed advanced spaceflight techniques such as extra-vehicular activity (EVA) and rendezvous docking, and to launch three Space Laboratory modules; Phase-III: To build a permanently-manned space station in the Earth orbit by 2020.
6 October: A Swedish satellite Freja was successfully launched on the piggyback of a FSW satellite from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre onboard a Changzheng 2C rocket. This was the first time a foreign satellite was launched from the Jiuquan launch centre.
21 December: China’s commercial satellite launch service suffered from its first major failure, when the Optus B2 satellite onboard a Changzheng 2E rocket exploded inside the payload fairing 45 seconds into the launch. Later investigation suggested that the accident was caused by wind shear.
21 July: China resumed its commercial satellite launch service and successfully sent the Apstar-1 telecommunications satellite into orbit using a Changzheng 3 rocket.
28 August: The Changzheng 2E rocket resumed flight after the 1992 failure and successfully sent the Optus B3 telecommunications satellite into orbit.
30 November: The Changzheng 3A rocket made its maiden flight from Xichang, successfully sending an indigenous Dongfanghong 3 telecommunications satellite into orbit.
26 January: Another high-profile launch failure, when a Changzheng 2E rocket carrying the Apstar-2 telecommunications satellite exploded in the midair shortly after the liftoff, again caused by wind shear.
October: The process to select candidates for China's astronauts began. Candidates were chosen from fighter jet pilots aged between 25~30, with over 800 flying hours, degree-level education, outstanding physical and mental conditions, and demonstration of high degrees of dedication. Out of 1,506 candidates who met the initial requirements, 886 were shortlisted for the selection process. After half-year of screening and selection, 60 candidates were left. Finally 12 people were chosen as the candidates for the manned spaceflight mission.
15 February: The Chinese space programme suffered from its most serious failure, when a Changzheng 3B rocket carrying the Intelsat 708 telecommunications satellite veered off course only 2 seconds after launch. The vehicle then hit the ground and exploded at T+22 seconds, destroying the US$125 million satellite onboard. Chinese official media confirmed that six people were killed during the accident, with another 57 injured. However, some foreign journalists who witnessed the accident estimated much higher casualty figures.
October: Two Chinese Air Force fighter pilots, Wu Jie and Li Qing-Long, were sent to the Russian Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre for a one-year training programme on operating the Soyuz-TM spacecraft. Wu Jie was specialised in the Commander role and the rendezvous docking operation, and Li Qing-Long was specialised in the Flight Engineer role and the extra-vehicular activity (EVA). The two returned to China in January 1998 after being qualified.
20 October: A Changzheng 2D rocket carrying the FSW-2-03 satellite was successfully launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. This was the last flight from its North Launch Site, which had been supporting China’s LEO launches since 1970. No space launch was conducted from the launch centre in the next three years, while it was upgraded to support the launch of the Shenzhou manned spacecraft.
8 December: A Changzheng 2C/SD rocket taking off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre successfully sent two Motorola Iridium communications satellites into the orbit. This was the first of six launches in a launch package for China to launch 12 Iridium satellites for Motorola.
March: The 12 astronaut candidates and 2 Russian-trained astronaut trainers began their four-year training programme to prepare for China’s first human space flight mission.
25 May: A select committee created by the U.S. House of Representatives released The Report of the Select Committee on U.S. National Security and Military/Commercial Concerns with the People's Republic of China, or more commonly known as the Cox Report. The report outlined alleged covert operations by the Chinese government and military within the United States to steal sensitive information on nuclear weapon and aerospace technologies. The report specifically accused China for stealing U.S. satellite technologies which could be used to improve its nuclear missiles, through its commercial launch services for satellites made by U.S. companies such as Hughes and Loral. As a result of this report, U.S. satellite manufacturers were banned from allowing their satellites to be launched by Chinese rockets.
July: Launch campaign began at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre for Shenzhou 1, an experimental prototype of China's Project 921 crewed vehicle.
2 August: The first successful test launch of the Dongfeng 31 (CSS-9) solid-propellant ICBM from Base 25 (Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre) to the impact zone in Xinjiang.
1 October: The Dongfeng 21 MRBM and Dongfeng 31 ICBM were displayed to the public for the first time during the National Day military parade held in Beijing.
14 October: CBERS-1, a civilian remote-sensing satellite jointly developed by China and Brazil, was launched onboard a Changzheng 4B launched from the Taiyuan launch centre.
20 November: The Shenzhou 1 experimental vehicle was successfully launched onboard a Changzheng 2F rocket from the newly-constructed South Launch Site in the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre. After a 21 hours flight that circled the Earth 14 times, the Descent Module of the spacecraft vehicle was successfully recovered at the Siziwangqi landing zone in Inner Mongolia.
Chinese Space Launches in the 1990s
|#||Date||Spacecraft||Role||Orbit||Launch vehicle||Launch site||Status|
|30||1990-04-07||Asia 1 (Hong Kong)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-3||Xichang||Successful|
|31||1990-07-16||Optus B1 mockup
|1992-03-22||Optus B1 (Australia)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-2E||Xichang||Failed*|
|36||1992-08-14||Optus B1 (Australia)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-2E||Xichang||Successful|
|38||1992-12-21||Optus B2 (Australia)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-2E||Xichang||Failed|
|Dummy com satellite
|42||1994-07-21||Apstar 1 (Hong Kong)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-3||Xichang||Successful|
|43||1994-08-28||Optus B3 (Australia)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-2E||Xichang||Successful|
|45||1995-01-26||Apstar 2 (Hong Kong)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-2E||Xichang||Failed|
|46||1995-11-28||Asia 2 (Hong Kong)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-2E||Xichang||Successful|
|47||1995-12-28||Echostar 1 (U.S.)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-2E||Xichang||Successful|
|49||1996-07-03||Apstar 1A (Hong Kong)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-3||Xichang||Successful|
|54||1997-08-20||Agila 1 (Philippine)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-3B||Xichang||Successful|
|55||1997-09-01||Iridium mockup X2||Telecommunications||Polar||CZ-2C/SD||Taiyuan||Successful|
|56||1997-10-17||Apstar 2 (Hong Kong)||Telecommunications||GEO||CZ-3B||Xichang||Successful|
|67||1999-11-20||Shenzhou 1||Unmanned vehicle||LEO||CZ-2F||Jiuquan||Successful|
* The launch vehicle failed to ignite and it didn't constitute a launch
** The launch was a success but the satellite failed to recover
*** The launch was a success but the satellite failed to move from GTO to GEO
Statistics (Launch Site)
Statistics (Launch Vehicle)
Last updated: 23 January 2012