Sunday, November 8, 2015

China Launches Long March 4B Rocket with Yaogan 28 Satellite

A Long March 4B rocket carrying the Yaogan 28 satellite blasts off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Nov. 8, 2015. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Guo Yu

China conducted a secretive launch on Sunday, Nov. 8, lofting the Yaogan 28 satellite into orbit. A Long March 4B rocket carrying the satellite lifted off at 3:06 a.m. EDT (7:06 GMT) from the Launch Complex 9 at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, located in Shanxi Province, north China. The mission was unannounced like many other Chinese orbital launches. No prior notice was given by the state-run media outlets.

China’s Xinhua news agency states that the Yaogan 28 satellite will be used for experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief. However, Western observers believe that this spacecraft is a military-operated Earth-imaging satellite. The ‘Yaogan’ designation is probably used to hide its true military nature.

Little is known about Yaogan 28, only brief information was provided by the media. The satellite was built by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) and is based on the Phoenix Eye-2 platform. The spacecraft is capable of high-resolution observation and also carries an infrared payload. It could use electronic intelligence (ELINT) system, electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar sensing equipment.

Data released by the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) indicate that the Yaogan 28 satellite was put into a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of approximately 300 miles, inclined 97 degrees.

The first satellite in the Yaogan series was launched on Apr. 26, 2006 by a Long March 4B booster, from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. It was China's first space-based synthetic aperture radar spacecraft.

The three-stage Long March 4B carrier rocket employed for Sunday’s launch is China’s long-serving booster, designed to deliver satellites into low Earth (LEO) and sun synchronous orbits. The 150 ft. tall launch vehicle is in service for over 16 years, and has conducted 26 missions, only one of them was unsuccessful.

With a mass of 249 tons, the Long March 4B booster is capable of delivering up to 4.2 tons to LEO, 2.8 tons to SSO and 1.5 tons to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The rocket’s first stage is 91.5 ft. long and has 11 ft. in diameter. It is powered by four YF-20 engines. The second stage, 35 ft. long and 11 ft. in diameter, is equipped in one YF-22C main engine and four YF-23C vernier engines. The 49 ft. long third stage is 9.5 ft. in diameter and is powered by two YF-40 engines.

With the liftoff of Yaogan 28, China continues its busy year of orbital launches. So far, the country launched 14 space missions this year – only Russia and the U.S. conducted more liftoffs in 2015. China plans at least three more launches by the end of the year, but it could perform more as many of them is always unannounced.

Sunday’s liftoff was the 217th mission for the Long March rocket family. It was also the second launch of the Long March 4B this year and the fouth liftoff from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in 2015.

Next Chinese launch is planned for Nov. 21, when a Long March 3B rocket will send the LaoSat-1 communications satellite into orbit. If successful, it will be the first Laotian spacecraft launched into space.

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