This Week in Space History – April 24, 1970, China Launches its First Satellite
This week in 1970, the People’s Republic of China successfully launched its first space satellite called the Dong Fang Hong I (translated as “The East Is Red 1”). The DFH-1 satellite was carried aboard a three-stage Changzheng-1 (CZ-1) rocket.
With the successful launch of DFH-1, China became the fifth country after the Soviet Union, United States, France, and Japan to independently launch a satellite. At 381 lbs., it was heavier than the combined weights of the other four countries’ first satellites. DFH-1 carried a radio transmitter broadcasting the national anthem “The East Is Red”, essentially a chant for the late Chinese leader Chairman Mao Zedong. The broadcast lasted for 20 days while in orbit.
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DFH-1 still orbits Earth and recently had a close encounter with a more recent Chinese space laboratory, Tiangong-2. According to the Chinese science site Weixen, “One day in July 2019, the ‘Dongfanghong-1’ satellite and the ‘Tiangong-2’ space laboratory met unexpectedly in an orbit about 400 kilometers from the earth. The orbits of the two were only a little more than 40 kilometers apart.”
An article from China’s human spaceflight office claims China’s first satellite, DongFangHong-1, came to within 40 km of Tiangong-2 in July last year (just before TG-2 was deorbited). https://t.co/NIIzlMywqr pic.twitter.com/7NCt6XGquw
— Andrew Jones (@AJ_FI) April 14, 2020
Tiangong-2 has since deorbited.
Both the DFH-1 satellite and the CZ-1 third stage remain in orbit and are tracked as objects by the U.S. Space Command (USSPACECOM) catalog numbers 4382 and 4392 respectively.
DFH-1 broadcasting “The East Is Red” and telemetry data.
The launch of DFH-1 demonstrated to the world China’s ability to develop its own launcher and satellite with no external assistance. 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of DFH-1.