Encyclopedia Astronautica
Project 581

Chinese technology satellite. Study 1959. First Chinese satellite project, with the objective of placing a satellite in orbit by 1959.

Abandoned when Soviet technical assistance was withdrawn and it became clear that no Chinese space launch vehicle could be ready on such a timescale.

More... - Chronology...

Associated Countries
See also
Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Kosmos 2 Ukrainian orbital launch vehicle. In 1960 the Soviet government decreed development of a lightweight launch vehicle for launch of payloads not requiring R-7 family of boosters. A modification of the R-12 IRBM was selected as the first stage; a new high-performance second stage was developed using a unique Lox/UDMH propellant combination. After two failures, the first successful flight was on March 16, 1962. More...

  • Natural Resources Defense Council, Nuclear Weapons Databook 5: British, French and Chinese Nuclear Weapons, Ballinger Publishing, 1990.
  • "Press dispatches", Xinhua News Agency, Web Address when accessed: here.
  • Wen-Rui Hu, Editor, Space Science in China, Gordon and Breach Science Publishers, China, 1997..
  • Chen Shilu, Yan Hui, Cai Yuanli, and Zhu Xiaoping, "Progress and Development of Space Technology in China", Acta Astronautica, Vol 46, No 9, p. 559, 2000. Paper IAA-96-IAA.2.2.05 presented at the 47th IA Congress, Beijing, 1996.

Project 581 Chronology

1956 March 1 - . Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
  • 12 year plan for Chinese aerospace - . Nation: China. Related Persons: Tsien. Spacecraft: Project 581. Summary: Hundreds of Soviet and Chinese scientists put together the technology portion of China's 12 year plan. Missile development is emphasized in the plan at the expense of the aircraft industry..

January 1958 - . LV Family: Kosmos 2. Launch Vehicle: R-12.
  • Project 581 - . Nation: China. Related Persons: Tsien. Spacecraft: Project 581. Summary: The first project to build a Chinese satellite is set in motion..

1958 May 17 - . LV Family: Kosmos 2. Launch Vehicle: R-12.
  • Project 581 pressure. - . Nation: China. Related Persons: Tsien. Spacecraft: Project 581. Summary: Chairman Mao says that China must orbit a satellite at the earliest possible date in order to match the Americans and Russians..

Early 1959 - . LV Family: Kosmos 2. Launch Vehicle: R-12.
  • Chinese plan satellite launch by December 1959 - . Nation: China. Related Persons: Tsien. Spacecraft: Project 581. Tsien and his colleagues set an initial goal of launching a satellite by the end of 1959. They see no reason to copy the antiquated R-2 missile being transferred from Russia, and want to make a great leap to an intermediate range missile capable of serving as the first stage of a satellite launcher. It very quickly becomes that this is much too ambitious and totally impossible.

1959 June 20 - . LV Family: DF-2; Kosmos 2. Launch Vehicle: DF-2.
  • Decision to withhold R-12 and nuclear warhead drawing package from China over Sidewinder affair - . Nation: China. Related Persons: Khrushchev; Tsien. Spacecraft: Project 581. The Soviet Central Committee advises China it will not provide prototype or drawings of atomic bombs as agreed previously. Khrushchev promised China that he would provide the drawing package for the R-12 IRBM as soon as testing was completed. However then came the affair of the Sidewinder. At the end of 1958 or early 1959 a complete missile fell into the hands of the Chinese. They promised to provide it to the Russians, but then dragged their feet. They were finally told in February 1959 that unless they provided the Sidewinder, they would not be given the R-12 package. The missile was finally delivered but it was found that the key crystal in the infrared homing sensor was missing. The Chinese had also been caught disassembling a P-15 cruise missile at a training facility in China. It had taken the Russian trainers two days to get it reassembled correctly. Therefore on June 20 1959 the decision was taken not to transfer the R-12 or the promised nuclear warhead design to China.

    The Soviets created a new design bureau to copy the Sidewinder. Fabrication of the crystal for the infrared sensor was the main obstacle. The initial production batches had a 99% rejection rate. A state commission was set up to get to the bottom of the problem, but couldn’t find a solution. The main problem seemed to be low-quality ore provided by the mines.

Late 1959 - . Launch Vehicle: DF-1.
  • R-2 production obstacles - . Nation: China. Related Persons: Tsien. Spacecraft: Project 581. 14 manufacturers and 1400 industrial work units were needed to manufacture the R-2 engines alone. Basic materials were difficult to get. Some were imported; others substituted. Eventually 40% of the parts of the missile used substitute materials, but many of these replacements proved to be inadequate. Machine tools were not available, and the missile frame was formed manually by human muscle power. Inert gas arc welding technology had to be developed. Soviet style factories were being erected for the production of the missile.

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