China conducted its second launch of the year yesterday, only a week after it kicked off its 2013 flight campaign. Yesterday’s launch from the Xichang Launch Center in Sichuan Province was carried out by a Long March-3B booster and carried the Zhongxing-11 communication’s satellite to orbit. The 3B is a three stage booster consisting of hypergolical fueled first and second stages, and a cryogenic third stage. It is also equipped with four hypergolic first stage strap-on boosters.
The Long March 3-B failed catastrophically on its maiden flight on February 15th, 1996, destroying a small village and killing a large number of people, with the actual death toll still in dispute. The accident was also a prime contributor to severe ITAR restrictions which many believe have done more harm than good in protecting American interests, encouraging the production of “100% U.S. content free” satellites. In the aftermath of the incident, satellite builder Space Systems/Loral was accused of providing restricted information to China during the course of the accident investigation. The company eventually settled by paying a $14 million dollar fine without admitting any guilt. Anatoly Zak has an excellent article detailing the immediate events surrounding the Xichang disaster in Airspacemag.com, which is definately worth a read.
Since the initial failure, the Long March-3B has gone on to establish a successful launch record, marked by only one additional incident, a third stage malfunction which put its satellite in a lower than intended orbit.
With sweeping ambitions and ample funding, China is currently working on both a more powerful cryogenic booster, the Long March 5, whose first flight has been was recently been pushed back to 20015, as well as large keralox rocket, the Long March 7, intended to support human lunar exploration.