Dong Fang Hong I, the first Chinese satellite

Dong Fang Hong I, which literally means “The East is Red 1”, is the first Chinese satellite; it has been orbited into a Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by a Long March 1 rocket on April 24, 1970. It was part of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s Dong Fang Hong program. The satellite was similar in shape to a symmetrical 72-faced polyhedron and had a diameter of approximately one meter. It spun one hundred and twenty times per minute for stabilization. The primary purpose of Dong Fang Hong I was to perform tests of satellite technology and take readings of the ionosphere and atmosphere. It has Satellite Catalog Number (a sequential 5-digit number assigned to all Earth orbiting satellites in order of identification) 4382.

The first mention of a Chinese space project goes back to 1957, after the launch by the U.S.S.R. of Sputnik 1. Mao Zedong would have had the following words: “We too will make satellites!”. The 173-kilogram satellite, also known as “China 1”, heavier than most of the first satellites that had been previously launched by “space-states”, carried a radio transmitter (in electronics and telecommunications, a transmitter or radio transmitter is an electronic device which produces radio waves with an antenna) which broadcasted for twenty days while in orbit the symbolical song “The East Is Red”, a song that was the de facto national anthem of the People’s Republic of China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s. It most importantly transmitted telemetry data and space readings. China, preceded by Japan which had independently launched the Ōsumi satellite on February 11, 1970, thus became the fifth space power.

The Long March rocket family

A Long March rocket or Changzheng rocket, is any rocket in a family of expendable launch systems operated by the People’s Republic of China and manufactured by CALT. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT) is the premier space launch vehicle manufacturer in China and one of the major launch service providers in the world. CALT is a subordinate of the larger China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). It was established in 1957 and is headquartered near Beijing. The rockets are named after the Long March (October 1934 – October 1935: a military retreat undertaken by the Red Army of the Communist Party of China, the forerunner of the People’s Liberation Army) of Chinese communist history.

Like other space powers, China began by developing ballistic missiles that later became the starting point for launchers. In the mid-1950s, the Chinese ballistic missile industry developed with the help of Soviet engineers. At that time, as both China and the U.S.S.R. were governed by the same socialist principles, Chinese leaders had close ties with the Soviet Union. As part of the Great Leap Forward of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), an economic and social campaign by the Communist Party of China (CPC) from 1958 to 1962, Chairman Mao Zedong, who aimed to rapidly transform the country from an agrarian economy into a socialist society through rapid industrialization and collectivization, decided to construct the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, a Chinese space vehicle launch facility (spaceport) located in the Gobi desert, Inner Mongolia. Chinese leaders decided in July 1961, after relations between China and the Soviet Union had deteriorated, to postpone the launch of an artificial satellite.

The Dong Feng 4 or DF-4, a two-stage Chinese intercontinental ballistic missile with liquid fuel, developed in response to the U.S. ballistic missile submarine patrols that began operating in the mid-1960s out of Guam, served as a starting point for the development of the Long March rocket family. The Long March 1, also known as the Changzheng-1, was the first member of China’s Long March rocket family. Its first and second stage used nitric acid and UDMH propellants, and its upper stage used a spin-stabilized solid rocket engine. The Long March 1 was quickly replaced by the Long March 2 family of launchers.

The Dong Fang Hong program

The Dong Fang Hong program was a satellite program of the People’s Republic of China. The program started in August 1965 as Project 651, a less ambitious successor to the earlier Project 581, with the goal of launching a satellite heavier than both Sputnik 1 and Explorer 1 into space, and developing all the necessary technologies to do so. In 1958, the Chinese Academy of Sciences proposed Project 581 which included a plan to launch a satellite into space before October 1959. The project was troubled due to China’s lack of expertise in the field of rocketry. In 1959, Zhang Jingfu, who was in charge in the satellite research program, postponed the project to allow effort to be put into developing more basic technologies, such as sounding rocketry. In June 1965, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, a political body that comprises the top leaders of the Communist Party of China (CPC), made the decision to pursue the development of a launch vehicle.

According to Boris Chertok, a Russian electrical engineer and the control systems designer in the Soviet Union’s space program, and later the Roscosmos in Russia, when the first (Soviet) space station Salyut 1 was under construction, its designated name was Zarya, which means Dawn in Russian. When the Soviets realized that the Chinese had a space program with a similar name, they renamed their space station to Salyut, which means Firework in Russian, to avoid confusion.

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) is a Chinese space vehicle launch facility (spaceport) located in the Gobi desert, Inner Mongolia. It is part of the Dongfeng Aerospace City. First of China’s four spaceports, it was founded in 1958. More Chinese launches have occurred at Jiuquan than anywhere else. JSLC is usually used to launch vehicles into Low Earth Orbit and Medium Earth Orbit, with large orbital inclination angles, as well as testing medium to long-range missiles. The site includes the Technical Center, the Launch Complex, the Launch Control Center, the Mission Command and Control Center and various other logistical support systems.