A Review of China's Launch Services for US-Made Satellites
By China Great Wall Industry Corporation
In April 1970, China launched its first satellite, the DFH-1, with a Long-March 1 rocket. Relying on its own efforts in the following two decades and more, China has developed a whole family of Long-March launch vehicles, which have been used for a total of 52 launches, 35 of which were for satellites manufactured in China.
In 1985, as an important move to implement its policy of reform and opening to the outside world, China began to offer the Long-March launch vehicles for international commercial satellite launch services. The Great Wall Industry Corporation was selected to be the exclusive Chinese agency for this operation. At that time, China had already possessed the tested capacity to launch communications satellites into geostationary orbit and a good record of launching satellites into low earth orbit. Initial international reaction to the Chinese offer was enthusiastic as a result of a general lack of commercial launch vehicles in the market. In November 1988, the Great Wall Industry signed its first contract to launch a foreign communications satellite, the AsiaSat-1, on a Long-March rocket, and the launch was successfully carried out in April 1990.
Since then, the Great Wall Industry has signed 25 international launch services contracts, 5 contracts for piggyback launches and 2 long-term agreements for multiple launch services. A total of 17 launches have been carried out in a course of 8 years. Compared with the average of 30 launches per year in the world commercial satellite launching market, the share taken up by the Long-March rockets is indeed a very modest, yet commendable supplement to the international market.
In order to secure export licenses for US-made satellites and maintain the integrity of American satellite technology as well as to address the international responsibility of possible damages caused by outer space objects, the governments of China and the United States signed three agreements in 1988, including the Memorandum of Agreement on Satellite Technology Safeguards. Under that agreement, the Chinese and American sides adopted a series of strict control and security measures which required: that all data and information provided to China by satellite manufacturers obtain prior approval of the US government; that American government officials be present during all satellite/launch vehicle technical coordination meetings; and that round-the-clock surveillance by American security personnel be maintained from the satellite's arrival in China until its launch into space.
One must point out that implementing the launch services contract is a commercial act. In order to safely and reliably deliver the satellite into the pre-defined orbit, the service provider is obligated to share necessary data and other technical information with its customer during the performance of the contract with a view to coordinating and controlling the interface between the satellite and the rocket to ensure their complete compatibility. It has nothing to do with the design and production technology of either the satellite or the rocket.
The said Memorandum Agreement also provided for fixed quotas of the geostationary satellites that China was allowed to launch for foreign customers. For each and every launch service contract involving US-made satellites, the American satellite manufacturer must apply for satellite export licenses from the US government, including a license for technical coordination with the rocket provider. In all this documentation, there were clear-cut provisions on security and control of satellite technology.
Chinese and American teams authorized by their respective governments meet annually to review and evaluate the execution of the above agreements. Facts in the past 10 years have shown that China has abided by these agreements in good faith while implementing the commercial launch services contracts with its customers. No question has ever been raised with regard to technology security during the past annual review meetings.
On February 15, 1996, China's Long-March 3B failed in its first launch carrying with it the Intelsat 708. Immediately after the mishap, Chinese aerospace specialists formed an analysis group, an investigation committee and an examination committee to look into the failure. During the following months, they conducted several hundred case analyses and a multitude of isolated and integrated tests, found the cause of failure, identified the failure model, reproduced the failure phenomenon and took effective corrective measures. China's aerospace industry has since stepped up its management regime, including the issuance of a 72-article provision on production control, a 28-article provision on quality control and 5 go-no-go criteria to minimize and eliminate problems. These measures have improved the production process, ensured product quality and reliability and achieved satisfactory results. From the fourth quarter of 1996 onward, the Long-March rockets have scored 10 consecutive launch successes. Most noticeably, the Long-March 3B has had 3 consecutive successes after resuming service. Facts have proved that Chinese aerospace engineers are fully capable of carrying out failure investigations, coming up with right conclusions and taking effective improvement measures, all on their own without outside assistance.
The investigation concluded that the Long-March 3B's first launch failure was caused by a defective electric part, a quality problem of a "low-tech" nature, which had nothing to do with the technical design or the manufacturing technology of the launch vehicle. In light of the cause, steps have been taken to improve the overall product reliability by strengthening the inspection and screening of the original parts and to introduce stronger quality control measures targeted at the whole rocket system and its sub-systems. This is the most important lesson that China's aerospace industry has learned from the launch failure.
After the launch failure, international insurance companies raised serious doubts about their continued coverage of the Long-March launch vehicles. They demanded that China allow an independent review panel to assess the conclusion of the Chinese investigation. Without such a review, as they argued, it would be difficult for them to continue providing insurance coverage. Their strong position would immediately affect another scheduled launch by the Long-March rocket. After carefully weighing the situation, China decided to act in a manner of unprecedented openness by inviting an Independent Review Committee composed of 6 experts from the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany and by sharing with them its internal investigation report.
The mission of the Independent Review Committee was to monitor the failure investigation as conducted by the Chinese side through assessing its probe findings and studying the telemetry data, test records, design and manufacturing processes of the Long-March launch vehicle in question as well as the associated quality control measures, so as to reach its own judgment as to whether or not the international insurers should accept the Chinese conclusion. The point that needs to be emphasized here is that as far as the failure investigation was concerned, the Independent Review Committee was an invited witness, and not an instructor, and its target audience was the international insurance community, and not the launch service provider.
From the moment China entered the international commercial launching market, it has formed a strong bond with the American satellite manufacturers. Through execution of various launch services contracts over the past decade and more, the Great Wall Industry, as China's sole contractor for international launch services, has developed an excellent commercial partnership with American satellite suppliers as well as their end users based on deeper mutual understanding and faithful implementation of their respective contract obligations. It is obvious that such a kind of international commercial cooperation not only benefits China and the United States but also contributes to the welfare of the entire world.
Satellite end users find greater diversity of international launch services providers a desirable development. The Great Wall Industry Corporation, with its reliable launch vehicles and competitive pricing, offers a welcome alternative for realizing their satellite communications programs.
The Great Wall Industry Corporation, on its part, has also benefited from its own experience of organizing and managing commercialized launch services to foreign customers. Faced with increasingly fierce market competition internationally and a difficult transition from a planned economy to a market economy at home, China's aerospace industry has withstood the test of setbacks and failures and learned to appreciate the profound importance of product quality, customer satisfaction and company reputation. It will continue to faithfully implement these principles and provide better and more reliable services to satellite communications community in the world.
Today, on the earth's geostationary orbit are 10 US-made satellites launched by China's Long-March rockets. Together, they carry close to 300 transponders in the service of satellite communications in Asia and the Pacific region. As the majority of these transponders directly cover Southeast Asia, they have become an indispensable force behind a flourishing communications business and growing economic prosperity in the region. This is something that both the launch service provider and the satellite manufacturers should be proud of.
International commercial launch service is a vigorous, growing industry, and an exciting stage for business cooperation among states. We are confident that the services provided by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation will enjoy greater understanding, appreciation and cooperation from the world's satellite manufacturing community, telecommunications community, national governments and relevant international organizations, which are essential for the Corporation's continued and enhanced contribution to the telecommunications development and economic prosperity in the world.
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