Jianbing 1 (FSW-0)

Jianbing 1 (“Vanguard”), or unofficially known as FSW-0, was the military designation given to the first-generation recoverable remote-sensing satellite missions launched between 1974 and 1987. The satellites carried a single prism-type panorama camera to obtain visible and near infrared photographic images of Earth, with an estimated special resolution of 10 to 15 m. Later missions also carried a medium-resolution CCD camera to demonstrate the real-time Earth imaging technology.

The engineering development of the Jianbing 1/FSW-0 satellite began in 1973, with the first launch scheduled for November 1974. The satellite was completed in June 1974 and delivered to the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre on 8 September, followed by the Long March 2 (CZ-2) launch vehicle four days later. The vehicle underwent the initial checkout, before being moved to Launch Complex 3 (North Launch Site) where it was assembled on Pad 138. After the final checkout of the launch vehicle had completed, it was mated with the payload and fuelled with the propellants.

The launch was originally scheduled for 13:00 local time on 5 November 1974, but the launch countdown was halted at T minus 13 seconds as the satellite suddenly lost power. After some investigation, the issue was rectified and the launch finally took place at 17:40. However, the launch vehicle began to swerve off course only 6 seconds into the flight. The self-destruction system onboard the launch vehicle was trigged at T+20 seconds, destroying both the launch vehicle and its payload.

Later investigation showed that the accident was caused by a disconnected cable that carried the pitch rate signal. The launch failure caused a 12-month delay in the programme, while the Seventh Ministry of Machinery Industry built a new satellite and made improvements to the launch vehicle. The second satellite (FSW-0-1) was completed in August 1975 and delivered to the Jiuquan launch centre on 16 October.

At 11:29:52 local time on 26 November 1975, the CZ-2 launch vehicle carrying the FSW-0-1 satellite was successfully launched from Jiuquan. The satellite was separated from the booster’s second-stage as scheduled and was placed into a 173 km by 483 km orbit inclined at 63°. The satellite was immediately captured by the ground tracking stations after orbit insertion.

Although the satellite’s telemetry signals indicated that everything was working as expected in the first 10 orbits, the satellite designers were not confident that the satellite would continue flying normally. To avoid losing the satellite, some suggested to bring the re-entry forward to 27 or 28 of November. After some careful consideration, the mission control decided to stick to the original schedule to have the satellite fly on orbit for three days.

After orbiting the Earth for 47 times, the FSW-0-1 satellite initiated its re-entry sequence. Under the command of the ground control, the satellite jettisoned its service module and fired the retro-motor to slow down. However, the satellite did not follow its designed re-entry trajectory and missed its targeted landing zone. At 11:06 local time on 29 November, the re-entry capsule landed in Guizhou Province, several hundred kilometres away from the landing zone. Although the capsule was seriously damaged by the re-entry heat, useable films were retrieved, making the mission largely a success. The design team also learned valuable a great deal in the satellite behaviours on orbit and during re-entry from the mission, allowing further improvements to be made to the satellite’s design.

The third satellite (FSW-0-2) with improvements in the heat protection was built in May 1976 and delivered to the launch site in October. The launch was scheduled at 12:22 local time on 7 December, but the launch countdown was halted at T minus 2 minutes, as the swinging arms of the umbilical tower on the pad failed to open. It took the ground crew 10 minutes to open the swinging arms manually. The launch sequence was resumed and the satellite was successfully sent into orbit.

Immediately after launch it appeared that satellite was losing pressure in its gas canisters for the control thrusters. The mission control was concerned that the satellite would not have enough gas left for the re-entry manoeuvre. The gas leakage also affected the satellite’s flying status on orbit. After some consideration, the mission control decided to bring the satellite back as scheduled.

The re-entry capsule of FSW-0-2 was separated from the service module as scheduled and entered atmosphere in the midday on 12 October, and landed in the landing zone at 12:11 local time. The recovery helicopter arrived at the landing spot within 3 minutes of the landing. The recovery crew was pleased to see the capsule completely intact and the mission was declared a success.

The fourth satellite (FSW-0-3) was built in 1977. It was launched on 26 January 1978 and successfully recovered three days later. The mission obtained a large amount of useful remote-sensing images.

After four experimental missions, the satellite’s design was finalised. The improved operational variant of the satellite was used from the fifth mission (FSW-0-4) onwards. Improvements on the operational variant satellite included:

  • Prolonged mission duration from 3 days to 5 days;
  • Increased overall mass from 1,800 kg to 1,865 kg;
  • Resigned space frame with slightly reduced mass;
  • Addition of a medium-resolution CCD camera to complement the primary film camera;
  • Additional telemetry signals to provide more information on the flight status of the re-entry capsule;
  • Amendable flight programme to allow more flexibility before and during the mission;
  • Encrypted communications for improved security;
  • Addition of a radio transponder on the re-entry capsule to help locating its landing spot;
  • The improved Long March 2C (CZ-2C) launch vehicle.

The design concept of the operational variant Jianbing 1/FSW-0 satellite was approved in July 1977, and construction of the first operational variant satellite (FSW-0-4) began in February 1982. The satellite was launched onboard a CZ-2C launch vehicle from Jiuquan on 9 September, and successfully recovered on 14 September.

Five more missions were launched between 1983 and 1987, all of which were successfully recovered. Among them, the FSW-0-5 mission in October 1985 and the FSW-0-6 mission in October 1986 were specifically launched for a nation-wide land survey programme. The two satellites carried both black-and-white and colour films to obtain visible and near infrared photographic images of Earth. The FSW-0-6 and FSW-0-7 missions also carried French and West German microgravity experiment packages inside their re-entry capsule.


Mission   Launch Date   LV      Launch Site   Outcome
FSW-0-0   1974-11-05    CZ-2    Jiuquan       Fail
FSW-0-1   1975-11-26    CZ-2    Jiuquan       Success
FSW-0-2   1976-12-07    CZ-2    Jiuquan       Success
FSW-0-3   1978-01-26    CZ-2    Jiuquan       Success
FSW-0-4   1982-09-09    CZ-2C   Jiuquan       Success
FSW-0-5   1983-08-19    CZ-2C   Jiuquan       Success
FSW-0-6   1984-09-12    CZ-2C   Jiuquan       Success
FSW-0-7   1985-10-21    CZ-2C   Jiuquan       Success
FSW-0-8   1986-10-06    CZ-2C   Jiuquan       Success
FSW-0-9   1987-08-05    CZ-2C   Jiuquan       Success


Length (m):.............3.14
Diameter (m):...........2.20
Internal volume (m3):...7.60
Mass (kg):..............1,800 (Experimental)
                        1,865 (Operational)
Return load (kg):.......260
Launch load (kg):.......340
Stabilisation:..........3-axis (+/-0.5° in all axes)
Mission duration:.......3 days (Experimental)
                        5 days (Operational)

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Freelance reporter and writer. Chinese military and space programme observer. Editor and publisher of SinoDefence.com and ChinaSpaceReport.com

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