Sunday, June 3, 2018

Long March 2D Launches Gaofen 6 and Luojia 1 to Orbit

Long March 2D launches with Gaofen 6 and Luojia 1 on June 2, 2018. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Wang Jiangbo

A Long March 2D booster took to the skies on Saturday, June 2, to deliver Gaofen 6 Earth-observing satellite and Luojia 1 CubeSat into space. The rocket blasted off at 4:13 GMT (0:13 a.m. EDT) from the LC9 launch complex at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (JSLC) in China’s Gansu Province.

The launch was initially targeted for 2017, however it was rescheduled to June 2018. China has not disclosed why the mission was postponed.

Very little is known about the flight itself. During the initial phase of the mission, the rocket was powered by the main stage’s YF-21C engine delivering some 2,962 kilonewtons of thrust. This stage was detached about three minutes after liftoff. Afterward, the second stage’s YF-24C cluster engine was ignited, marking the start of the rocket’s ride toward targeted orbit.

The exact timeline of the remaining part of the flight remains uncertain. Beijing only revealed that both spacecraft were inserted into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). Hence, the orbital injection most likely took place about 10-20 minutes after liftoff.

Mission success was confirmed by the state-run Xinhua press agency some two hours after the launch.

“China on Saturday launched a new Earth observation satellite, Gaofen 6, which will be mainly used in agricultural resources research and disaster monitoring,” Xinhua reports.

Primary payload of the mission is the Gaofen 6 remote sensing satellite. Developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), the spacecraft is based on the CAST2000 platform and weighs around 1.064 metric tons. The satellite is fitted with two deployable solar arrays and is designed to be operational for eight years.

According to China’s State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (SASTIND), Gaofen 6 is similar to Gaofen 1, however it utilizes better cameras than its predecessor and its high-resolution images can cover a large area of the Earth. The imaging system of Gaofen 6 consists of a 6.56/26.24-feet (2/8-meter) resolution panchromatic/hyperspectral camera with an image swath of more than 56 miles (90 kilometers), and a 52.5-feet (16-meter) resolution wide angle camera with an 497-mile (800-kilometer) image swath.

As part of its agricultural resources research mission, Gaofen 6 is planned to observe chlorophyll and other nutritional content of crops, and help to estimate yields of crops such as corn, rice, soybeans, cotton and peanuts. When it comes to disaster monitoring, the satellite is designed for the observations of droughts and floods, evaluation of agricultural projects and surveying of forest and wetland resources.

Gaofen 6 belongs to the China High-Resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS). The system is planned to provide real-time, all-day global Earth observation under any weather conditions.

The CHEOS program comprises the elements of China’s space-borne, near-space, aerial and ground systems as well as application systems and brings them together as a whole to carry out Earth observations at high temporal, spatial, and spectral resolution.

The first Gaofen satellite was launched in April of 2013. By 2020, it is hoped that the entire seven-satellite CHEOS system should be in orbit. The primary data users of the program are the Ministry of Land and Resources, the Ministry of Environmental Protection, and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Developed by the Wuhan University, Luojia 1 is the secondary payload of Saturday’s mission. It is a six-unit CubeSat designed for Earth observations purposes. The small satellite is equipped with an imager with 328-feet (100-meter) ground resolution and is planned to serve as a prototype for a future Earth-observing constellation consisting of 60-80 satellites.

The Long March 2D launcher that has been selected for Saturday’s flight is a two-stage rocket developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. It is mainly used to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO). The 135 foot (41.15 meters) tall booster can launch payloads of up to 3.5 metric tons to LEO and has an SSO capability of up to 1.3 metric tons. The rocket was launched for the first time on Aug. 9, 1992, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, orbiting the Fanhui Shei Weixing FSW-2-1 recoverable satellite.

Saturday’s launch was the 276th flight of the Long March rocket series and 16th orbital mission for China this year. The next Chinese launch is currently scheduled to take place on June 10, when a Long March 3A booster will lift off with the Fengyun 2H meteorology satellite.

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