Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Long March 3A Lifts Off with Fengyun 2H Weather Satellite

Fengyun 2H lifts off atop a Long March 3A launcher on June 5, 2018. Photo Credit: Liu Kun/Xinhua

A Long March 3A booster was launched by China on Tuesday, June 5, to deliver the Fengyun 2H meteorological spacecraft into space. The rocket blasted off the launch pad at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) situated in the Sichuan Province, at 13:07 GMT (9:07 a.m. EDT).

China initially scheduled the mission for June 10. However, the officials apparently made a last-minute decision to launch the satellite five days ahead of the schedule, not informing the public what was behind this move.

As was the case with previous Chinese launches, Beijing keeps the details about pre-launch preparations under tight wraps. Moreover, the exact timeline of Tuesday’s flight is uncertain. What is known is that the Fengyun 2H satellite will be inserted into a geosynchronous orbit (GSO).

Taking into account previous Long March 3A mission, it is assumed that Tuesday’s flight lasted some half an hour counting from liftoff to the separation of the satellite. Afterward, the spacecraft continued its trek toward GSO.

The success of Tuesday's mission was confirmed by the Xinhua state-run press agency about two hours after liftoff.

Developed by the Shanghai Institute of Satellite Engineering (SISE), Fengyun 2H weighs some 1.38 metric tons and has a diameter of about 6.9 feet (2.1 meters). It will be operated by China’s National Satellite Meteorological Center.

Xinhua informs that Fengyun 2H will be used to "improve the accuracy of weather forecasting and provide better meteorological services to countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative".

Fengyun 2H is equipped in four instruments designed mainly for weather monitoring purposes, namely: the DCS (Data Collection Service), the SEM (Space Environment Monitor), the S-VISSR (Stretched Visible and Infrared Spin Scan Radiometer) and the SXM (Solar X-ray Monitor).

Fengyun (what means „winds and clouds” in Chinese) is China’s meteorological satellite program, composed of at least one operational satellite in geostationary orbit and several satellites in polar orbits. The constellation is designed to monitor China and surrounding territories in order to deliver timely data relevant for weather forecasting.

The First satellite in the Fengyun series, Fengyun 1A, was launched in 1988. Fengyun 2H is the final Fengyun 2 satellite. Previous spacecraft of the second series of Fengyun satellites – Fengyun 2G was launched in December 2014.

Beijing intends to replace the Fengyun 1 and 2 series of satellites currently in orbit by a new and improved generation of weather spacecraft – Fengyun 3 for polar orbits and Fengyun 4 for those for geostationary orbits. To date, four Fengyun 3 and one Fengyun 4 satellites were orbited.

The 172 feet (52 meters) tall, 11 feet (3.35 meters) wide Long March 3A rocket, which was used for Tuesday’s mission, is a three-stage launch vehicle. It is designed to deliver up to 2.6 metric tons of payload into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and up to 8.5 metric tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO). The rocket has a launch mass of approximately 241 metric tons. Its maiden launch was conducted on Feb. 8, 1994.

The first stage and second stage of the rocket use storable propellants; in this case, unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide (N2O4). The third stage employs the cryogenic propellants liquid hydrogen (LH2) and liquid oxygen (LOX).

Tuesday’s mission was the 277th launch of a Long March rocket and 17th orbital mission conducted by China in 2018.

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