The Kaituozhe 1 (KT-1) solid-propellant launch vehicle had been developed by the CASIC’s Space Solid Fuel Launch Vehicle Co. Ltd. since 2000. Based on the Julang 1 / DF-21 solid-propellant medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) technology, the KT-1 was designed as a small-lift orbital launcher to send small satellite of under 100kg into space. The launch vehicle had made two flights since 2003, but had never been put in operational use.
The concept of an all-solid-propellant small-lift launch vehicle was originally developed in the 1990s. Such a launcher would be able to be launched from a mobile, truck-based platform, without requiring the complex rocket fuelling and launch pad facilities. This would offer a low-cost, fast-response, and highly-flexible launch capability in both peacetime and crisis.
China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) established Space Solid Fuel Launch Vehicle in May 2000 as the primary contractor for its KT-1 all-solid-propellant launch vehicle programme. The programme was solely funded by CASIC, with no state support. Space Solid Fuel Launch Vehicle was responsible for the development and marketing of the launcher, and the Sixth Space Academy in Inner Mongolia was responsible for the solid motors. The development entered the engineering phase in November 2000, with the third-stage successfully tested on 25 February 2001.
The KT-1 was a four-stage design 13.6m in length and 1.4m in diameter. The first-stage had four nozzles, with a launch mass of 20t. It was the first Chinese-made launch vehicle to be equipped with a Strap-down Inertial Navigation System (SINS) for guidance. The KT-1 was capable of placing a satellite of under 100kg mass into a 600km polar orbit for earth observation and scientific research roles. The rocket could be launched from a mobile truck-based platform, or an airborne platform. If necessary, the launch vehicle could be ready for launch in 12 hours, in contrast to the two- to three-month preparation time required by conventional liquid-propellant Changzheng launch vehicles .
The KT-1 had only made two flights since 2002, none of which was fully successful. In its first flight in September 2002, the vehicle failed to place a 35.8kg microsatellite into the 300km polar orbit due to second-stage failure. A second launch on 16 September 2003 sent the 40kg PS-2 microsatellite into space but on the wrong orbit. The satellite barely made a single orbit before re-entry. CASIC officials insisted that the launch vehicle’s guidance system, fairing separation and payload separation all worked according to the plan, but admitted that not all objectives were achieved” .
In early 2004 Chinese media reported that the KT-1 was ready for its third flight to launch a small satellite in June . However, there had been no further report on the launch subsequently, possibly suggesting that the launch was unsuccessful.
Space Solid Fuel Rocket Carrier also developed an improved variant, originally designated KT-2 and later renamed KT-1A. This was a four-stage orbital launch vehicle capable of sending 300kg payload into the Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) and polar orbit. With an estimated launch mass of 40t. The KT-1A featured a new first-stage motor with larger diameter, topped by the first two stages of the basic KT-1 vehicles.
A larger-size KT-2A (later renamed KT-1B) was designed for polar orbit missions with greater payload capability (~400kg and up to three separate payloads). The vehicle consists of two solid boosters derived from the first stage motor of the KT-1, a larger-diameter core second stage motor like that of the KT-1A, a new larger-diameter third stage motor, and an enormous new fairing.
Air-Launched Launch Vehicle
The concept of an air-launched version of the KT-1 was first revealed in a Chinese aerospace professional journal in 2003. The concept was based on the land-based KT-1 launch vehicle and the Russian IL-76 cargo jet plane. According to the concept, the rocket would be launched at an altitude of 10,000m, while the plane was cruising at a speed of Mach 0.67, giving a payload capacity of over 100kg to the 400km SSO .
According to a report by Aviation Weeks and Space Technology on 17 January 2007, U.S. intelligence agencies believed that China carried out a successful anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test on 11 January, destroying the retired FengYun-1C meteorological satellite with a kinetic kill vehicle launched onboard a modified intermediate-range ballistic missile. The launch vehicle used during the test was speculated to be the KT-409, a derivation of the KT-1 solid-propellant space launch vehicle.
November 2000: The Kaituozhe solid-propellant launch vehicle programme entered engineering development.
25 February 2001: Third-stage of the launcher successfully tested.
15 September 2002: First flight of the KT-1. Launch site: Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre; Launch vehicle: KT-1; Payload: PS-1 microsatellite (35.8kg). The satellite failed to enter the scheduled 300km polar orbit due to a malfunction of the LV's second stage.
16 September 2003: Second launch of the KT-1. Launch site: Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre; Launch vehicle: KT-1; Payload: PS-2 microsatellite (40kg). The launch was only partially successful. Chinese space officials insisted that the LV guidance system, fairing separation and satellite-launcher separation all worked according to plan but also admitted that "not all objectives were achieved”.
January 2004: Chinese media reported that the KT-1 was would launch a small satellite into space in the second-half of the year. There had been no further report on the launch, possibly suggesting that the launch was unsuccessful.
17 January 2007: Anti-satellite (ASAT) weapon test. Launch site: A launch spot near the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre; Launch vehicle: KT-409; Payload: kinetic kill vehicle; The weapon destroyed a retired weather satellite FY-1C stationed at 530 miles (853km) altitude 4 degree west of Xichang.
|Overall length||13.6 m|
|Core stage diameter||1.4 m|
|Take-off mass||20 t|
|LEO capacity||100kg to 600km LEO|
- "我首枚固体燃料运载火箭试飞成功" [Our country's first solid-propellant launch vehicle made successful maiden flight], 人民网 [People's Daily Online], 24 September 2003, http://www.people.com.cn/GB/paper39/10249/937404.html. Accessed on 10 March 2012
- "中国"开拓者一号"火箭发射成功 将送小卫星升空" [China's Kaituozhe 1 was launched successfully and will place small satellites into space], 人民网 [People's Daily Online], 21 September 2003, http://scitech.people.com.cn/GB/25509/55912/104140/104142/6308161.html. Accessed on 10 March 2012
- "我国将发射"开拓者一号"小型固体运载火箭" [China will launch the Kaituozhe 1 small-lift solid-propellant launch vehicle], 中国网 [China.com.cn], 27 January 2004, http://www.china.com.cn/chinese/2004/Jan/486281.htm. Accessed on 10 March 2012
- "发展我国空中(机载)发射固体火箭的 思路和技术途径 " [Ideas and technological paths in developing China's air-launched (aircraft carrier) solid-propellant rocket], 中国航天 [China Space] 2003, 2nd Issue21, http://www.space.cetin.net.cn/docs/ht0302/ht0302htxtjs01.htm. Accessed on 10 March 2012
Last updated: 23 February 2012