This Week in Space History – April 24, 1970, China Launches its First Satellite

This Week in Space History – April 24, 1970, China Launches its First Satellite

This Week in Space History – April 24, 1970, China Launches its First Satellite

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By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor of In MilitaryInCyberDefense and In Space News.

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.”

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.