Friday, November 27, 2015

Chinese Long March 4C Rocket Conducts Surprise Yaogan-29 Launch

Chinese Long March 4C booster lifts off the Yaogan-29 satellite on Nov. 26, 2015. Photo Credit: Xinhua

China on Thursday, Nov. 26, conducted another surprise launch this year, lifting the Yaogan-29 satellite into space. The spacecraft was launched atop a Long March 4C booster at 5:24 p.m. EDT (21:24 GMT) from the LC9 launch complex at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center (TSLC), located in Shanxi Province, north China.

As was the case with many previous Chinese missions this year, the Thursday’s launch was performed without any prior notice from the country’s officials. The mission was declared a success by the Chinese media outlets after the satellite was successfully delivered into its target sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) at an altitude of 382 miles (615 km), inclined 97.8 degrees. Debris from the rocket fell in Hubei province in central China. No damage or injuries were reported.

According to Chinese sources, the Yaogan-29 remote sensing satellite was developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) and has a spatial resolution of 1.64 feet (0.5 meters), though the instrument is not known. The spacecraft weighs around three tons. It is reported that Yaogan-29 features an electronic motor-powered solar panel which expands under the command from the ground control station.

The state-run Xinhua press agency insists that the satellite will be used for experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief. But Western analysts and observers believe that the Yaogan satellites are of a military nature. They could use electronic intelligence (ELINT), electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensing equipment for military purposes. Yaogan system, comprised of optical imaging and radar satellites could be conducting reconnaissance on a global scale. It was inaugurated in April 2006 when the first SAR satellite was sent into space.

Previous satellite in the series, Yaogan-28 was also launched this month from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. The satellite lifted off on Nov. 8 atop a Long March 4B rocket.

The Long March 4C booster employed for the Thursday’s launch has a liftoff mass of an estimated 250 tons and is some 54.7 meters (150 ft.) in length with a diameter of 3.4 meters (11 ft.). It is capable of delivering payloads of up to 4.2 tons to low-Earth orbit, 2.8 tons to a SSO and up to 1.5 tons into a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

Thursday’s launch was the 18th flight of one of the nation’s Long March 4C launch vehicles. The flight also marked the 219th Long March launch overall and the 56th successful flight from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.

Thanks to the Yaogan-29 liftoff, China continues its impressive streak of successful launches this year. So far, the country has conducted 16 missions to orbit in 2015 – all of them apparently successful. Only Russia and the U.S. performed more launches this year, 22 and 18 respectively.

China plans two more launches by the end of 2015. The next flight is scheduled to take place on Dec. 18 when a Long March 2D rocket is scheduled to send the DAMPE (DArk Matter Particle Explorer) spacecraft into space. It will be the country’s first-ever dark matter probe. The spacecraft is designed to detect electrons and photons with unprecedented energy resolution in order to identify possible dark matter signatures.

The exact date of the last Chinese launch this year hasn’t been announced yet. The rocket tasked with delivering Gaofen-4 Earth-observing satellite into orbit – will be the Long March 3B booster. Given that many of China’s launches are shrouded in secrecy, the Gaofen-4 satellite could be launched earlier without any prior notice.

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