China-Based Oriental Space Launches Its First Medium-Lift Rocket

Gravity-1 launch vehicle


“The trend in Chinese commercial launch companies since 2020 has been to shift towards larger rockets. Orienspace is looking to develop and launch Gravity-2 and Gravity-3 soon. Both rockets having a low earth orbit payload greater than Gravity-1.”


China is making strides in its commercial launch technologies. According to the excerpted article from the Chinese news outlet People’s Daily Online, on 11 January 2024, a Chinese commercial launch vehicle designer called Orienpace[i] successfully launched its first Gravity-1 medium-lift rocket carrying 3 Yunyao-1 (18-20) global weather data satellites into low orbit. The Gravity-1 rocket, (known as “引力-1号,” “Yinli-1,” or simply “YL-1”) has been in development since 2021 and is the launch vehicle for the Yunyao-1 satellites. Several facets of the Gravity-1 make it an important development for China. First, it can support a very large payload of approximately 20-30 low-orbit satellites, which is larger than China’s previous largest rockets’ payloads, the CAS Space’s Kinetica-1 and China Rocket’s Jielong-3. Gravity-1 can provide a payload of 6.5 tons to low orbit, whereas Kinetica-1 can provide a payload of 2 tons and Jielong-3 can provide a payload of 1.5 tons to low orbit. Second, Oriental Space can launch Gravity-1 within 5 hours of manufacturing, giving Oriental Space the capability to address emergency launch requests. Third, Gravity-1 is the lowest price in the current Chinese launch market.[ii] The capabilities of Gravity-1 could provide China with the ability to launch multiple low-earth orbiting satellites at a faster and more cost-effective rate than their competitors enhancing China’s communication, military reconnaissance, and technology testing.


Sources:

“全球运力最大固体运载火箭引力一号首飞成功 (The world’s largest solid launch vehicle Gravity-1 successfully made its maiden flight),” People’s Daily Online (Chinese government news outlet), 12 January 2024. https://finance-people-com-cn.translate.goog/n1/2024/0112/c1004-40157723.html?_x_tr_sch=http&_x_tr_sl=zh-CN&_x_tr_tl=en&_x_tr_hl=en&_x_tr_pto=sc

“At 13:30 on January 11, my country’s Taiyun Satellite Launch Center used the Gravity-1 Yaoyi commercial launch vehicle in the sea near Haiyang, Shandong, to successfully launch 18-20 Yunyao-1 satellites into the predetermined orbit…Gravity-1 is capable of carrying more than twice that of the previous largest Chinese solid rockets, CAS Space’s Kinetica-1 and China Rocket’s Jielong-3.”


Notes:

[i] See Orienspace’s official website (东方空间). https://www.orienspace.com/

[ii] This is according to Oriental Space’s website and a recent article featured in the American news outlet SpaceNews. See: Andrew Jones, “Orienspace breaks Chinese commercial launch records with Gravity-1 solid rocket,” SpaceNews. 11 January 2024. https://spacenews.com/orienspace-breaks-chinese-commercial-launch-records-with-gravity-1-solid-rocket/


Image Information:

Image: Gravity-1 launch vehicle
Source: https://www.orienspace.com/productPage
Attribution: CC BY-SA 4.0


Chinese and Vietnamese Leaders Meet Over Tensions in South China Sea

Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong (left) in Beijing.


“Regarding issues at sea, the two leaders exchanged sincere and frank opinions in depth, emphasizing the need to better control and actively resolve disagreements at sea, maintaining peace and stability in the Sea. East and Region.”


The waters surrounding the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea are paramount to the interests of the surrounding states due to the potential energy reserves, geo-strategic locations, and fishing resources.  Although China maintains de facto control over the Paracel Islands, Vietnam also has laid claim to them, leading to increasing tensions. On 12 December 2023, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, Nguyen Phu Trong to ease these tensions. According to the first excerpted articles from the Vietnamese news media aggregator Báo Mới, General Secretary Trong requested both sides respect each other’s legitimate interests and resolve disputes by peaceful means per international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. As per the second excerpted article from the military-focused China Military Network[i], it was noted that China and Vietnam were at a “critical stage of reform and development.” The article also highlighted the nearly three dozen agreements signed during the visit as proof of improving relations between the two countries. However, the December Xi-Trong meeting is set against the backdrop of longstanding tension between China and Vietnam stemming from both countries’ claims of sovereignty over both the Paracel and Spratly Island in the South China Sea. China has codified its claims across the region with its nine-dash line maritime policy, a visual representation of China’s claims that appears on some official and comparative maps of disputed claims in the region, but which has been refuted by international maritime law.[ii] While China would like to settle tensions with Vietnam, it is unlikely that the recent meeting between Xi and Trong, and subsequent bilateral agreements, would dissuade Vietnam from its current claims of  Vietnamese features in the South China Sea.[iii]


Sources:

“Việt Nam và Trung Quốc nhất trí xây dựng Cộng đồng chia sẻ tương lai (Vietnam and China agreed to build a Community of Shared Future),” Báo Mới (Hanoi-based Vietnamese news aggregator), 12 December 2023. https://baomoi-com/ viet-nam-va-trung-quoc-nhat-tri-xay-dung-cong-dong-chia-se-tuong-lai-c47792276.epi   

General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong emphasized that in the context of complex international and regional developments, it is important that countries jointly implement policies of peace, cooperation, and development, and comply with the law. Internationally respecting each other’s equality and legitimate interests.


“志同道合携手行,命运与共创未来中共中央政治局委员、外交部长王毅谈习近平总书记、国家主席对越南国事访问 (Like-minded people join hands to create a shared future – Wang Yi, member of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and Foreign Minister, talks about General Secretary Xi Jinping and President Xi Jinping’s state visit to Vietnam),” China Military Network (Chinese military news focused media aggregator), 14 December 2023. https://www.81.cn/yw_208727/16273510.html 

Currently, both China and Vietnam are at a critical stage of reform and development. Strengthening mutually beneficial cooperation has both inherent advantages and practical needs. During this visit, the two sides signed more than 30 cooperation agreements, covering all aspects of the “Belt and Road”, development cooperation, digital economy, green development, transportation, inspection and quarantine, defense and law enforcement security cooperation, maritime cooperation, etc., expanding the breadth of China-Vietnam relations.


Notes:

[i] China Military Network can also be translated “Chinese military web.” The page banner includes links to the Chinese Ministry of Defense, military newspapers, and topical sites like “Strategy,” and Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry press briefings. The URL is significant because 81 represents 1 August 1927, the founding date for the Red Army.

[ii] In 2016 the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague had ruled China’s nine-dash line maritime policy to be illegitimate. China had disregarded the Court’s ruling, and the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and has continued to aggressively enforce its nine-dash line maritime policy. For a U.S. government’s perspective of the Arbitration’s ruling see: “South China Sea Arbitration Ruling: What Happened and What’s Next?,” U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, 12 July 2016. https://www.uscc.gov/sites/default/files/Research/Issue Brief, South China Sea Arbitration Ruling What Happened and What%27s Next071216.pdf

[iii] For additional context, see: Jacob Zenn, “Vietnam Taking Diplomatic Approach to Spratly Islands Territorial Disputes,” OE Watch, 08-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/vietnam-taking-diplomatic-approach-to-spratly-islands-territorial-disputes/; For a comparison of China’s claims and recent confrontations with the Philippines in the Spratly Islands, see: Dodge Billingsley, “China and Philippines Spar Over Grounded Ship in Spratly Islands, OE Watch, 08-2023. https://fmso.tradoc.army.mil/2023/china-and-philippines-spar-over-grounded-ship-in-spratly-islands/


Image Information:

Image: Chinese President Xi Jinping (right) shakes hands with Vietnam’s Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong (left) in Beijing.
Source: https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/politics/article/3244526/xi-jinping-set-woo-vietnam-new-rail-and-rare-earth-projects-bid-curb-rising-us-clout
Attribution: CC BY-SA 4.0


People’s Liberation Army Ground Force Fields First Armed Reconnaissance Drone

A China Caihong-4 drone at Airshow China Zhuhai in 2022.


“65 helicopters and drones, nearly 50 sets of flight simulators and special vehicle equipment and other large exhibits were on display.”


According to the first excerpted article from the Chinese government news outlet Tianjin Daily, on 14 September, the 6th China Helicopter Exposition displayed 65 helicopters and drones to over 350 firms at the Industry Base of the AVIC Helicopter in Tianjin.1 On 18 September 2023, according to the second article from China Daily, a Chinese government newspaper, officials confirmed that the People’s Liberation Army Ground Force (PLAGF) had unveiled their first armed reconnaissance drone, the KVD-002.2 The KVD-002 was displayed at the 6th China Helicopter Exposition.2 The CH-4 [RG1] , a predecessor to the KVD-002, is China’s best-selling unmanned combat aircraft. Prior to the KVD-002 release, the PLAGF did not have the capability for unmanned combat air reconnaissance. The KVD-002’s ability to provide up to 30 hours of air surveillance along with an air-to-ground strike package, adds additional capabilities to support China’s overseas expansion interests. The KVD-002 provides the PLAGF with battlefield and intelligence support to helicopter units, and guides attack helicopters to their target, increasing the PLAGF’s operational capability.2 Additionally, the KVD-002 could be utilized to support airborne early warning, control aircraft, and provide Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance capabilities to ground forces.


Sources:

“第六届中国天津国际直升机博览会开幕 (The 6th China Tianjin International Helicopter Expo opens),” Tianjin Daily (Tianjin Municipal People’s Government news outlet), 15 September 2023. https://www.tj.gov.cn/sy/tjxw/202309/t20230915_6406971.html

“On September 14, the 6th China Tianjin International Helicopter Expo opened in Tianjin Airport Economic Zone. Municipal Party Committee Secretary Chen Min’er met with Hao Zhaoping, Deputy Secretary of the Party Leadership Group and General Manager of Aviation Industry Corporation of China, who came to Tianjin to attend the conference, and Lieutenant General Deng Zhiping of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, and witnessed the cooperation between the Tianjin Municipal People’s Government and Aviation Industry Corporation of China. Signed a comprehensive strategic cooperation agreement.”


More than 350 companies from more than 20 countries and regions participated in the exhibition… 65 helicopters and drones, nearly 50 sets of flight simulators and special vehicle equipment and other large exhibits were on display. The audience is expected to exceed 60,000. During this period, more than 150 business negotiations and business activities will be held to build a platform for aviation companies to connect on-site and expand cooperation. “陆军推出战斗无人机 (Ground Force unveils combat drone),” China Daily (English language Chinese Communist Party newspaper), 18 September 2023. https://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202309/18/WS6507b43da310d2dce4bb644f.html

The People’s Liberation Army Ground Force has unveiled its first combat drone, a move observers said will strengthen the service’s operational capability. “The drone can cooperate with helicopters in combat operations. It can provide battlefield intelligence and fire support for the helicopter units, and can guide attack helicopters to their targets,” the introduction said, adding that the model can make short takeoffs and landings on a plateau.” The Ground Force did not disclose the KVD002’s developer. However, observers said that judged on its configuration and the AR-1 missile, the drone must have been designed based on the Caihong-4, or CH-4, China’s bestselling unmanned combat aircraft on the international market. The CH-4 is built by the China Academy of Aerospace Aerodynamics in Beijing, a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.


Image Information:

Image: A China Caihong-4 drone at Airshow China Zhuhai in 2022.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CASC_Rainbow#/media/File:CH-4_at_Airshow_China_Zhuhai_2022.jpg
Attribution: CC BY-SA 4.0