Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Long March 2C Set to Launch Yaogan-30 Trio into Orbit

Long March 2C sends a triplet of Yaogan-30 satellites into orbit on Dec. 26, 2017. Photo Credit: Liang Keyan / Xinhua

China is preparing to conduct its fifth orbital mission this month by launching a Long March 2C rocket with three Yaogan-30 satellites. The booster will liftoff on Thursday, January 25, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC). The launch will take place at around 5:40 GMT (0:40 a.m. EST).

Very little is known about the preparations for the flight and about the mission’s payload. The spacecraft will most likely be inserted into a low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of about 373 miles (600 kilometers).

Chinese media describe Yaogan-30 as remote sensing satellites dedicated for civilian purposes. Beijing insists that these spacecraft are designed to conduct scientific experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief. According to Xhinhua state-run press agency, the latest Yaogan-30 trio, launched December 26, 2017 was sent into space to carry out electromagnetic environmental probes and other experiments.

Western experts believe that Yaogan-30 spacecraft will be employed for military purposes. Some of them suppose that the Yaogan name is a cover for China’s spy satellite program.

Developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Yaogan-30 04 trio consists of three identical satellites, designated Yaogan-30 J, K and L, equipped with two deployable solar arrays. Detailed technical parameters of this group as well as previous spacecraft in the series were not disclosed by China. However, Western analysts suspect that each Yaogan satellite employs either optical or synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensors.

A report issued in January 2015 by the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, India, suggest that Yaogan satellites enable China to routinely identify, locate and track an aircraft carrier group on the high seas. The Yaogan network could be therefore an important component of an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) system that Beijing is developing.

“The Chinese have in place a robust space based system that performs the location and tracking functions for the ASBM system,” the report reads.

First Yaogan satellite was launched in April 2006, while the first Yaogan-30 trio was delivered into space on September 29, 2017. The newest trio, slated to be orbited on Thursday, will expand the network of Yaogan-30 spacecraft in space to 12.

The Long March 2C booster used for this launch is a two-stage rocket developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). It is mainly used to launch satellites into LEO and Sun-synchronous orbits (SSO). The 138 feet (42 meters) tall launch vehicle is capable of lofting payloads of up to 3.85 metric tons to LEO and has an SSO capability of up to 1.4 metric tons. For some launches, the rocket could fly with an optional third stage.

Long March 2C carried out its first flight on September 9, 1982, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, orbiting the Fanhui Shei Weixing recoverable satellite.

Thursday’s launch will be the 265th flight of the Long March rocket series and the second mission conducted from XSLC this year.

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