Sunday, October 1, 2017

China Returns to Flight with a Secretive Launch of Three Satellites

Long March 2C lifts off with three Yaogan-30 01 satellites on September 29. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Zhang Wenjun

China performed a secretive launch of a Long March 2C rocket on Friday, September 29, ending the country’s three-month period without any orbital missions. The launch vehicle, carrying three Yaogan-30 01 satellites, lifted off at 4:21 UTC (0:21 a.m. EDT) from the LC3 Launch Complex at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center located in Sichuan province.

The liftoff was carried out without any prior notice and no detailed information about the payload was disclosed by Chinese media what suggest military nature of the mission. However, some information that the country plans to launch its Long March 2C booster sometime in May or June 2017 were released to the public.

Given that the last two Chinese space launches were problematic and the one on July 2 ended even in total failure (Long March 5’s second stage failed to place the Shijian 18 satellite into orbit), the country has suspended its orbital missions. Therefore, the planned Long March 2C mission was put on hold and now when it finally blasted off, it marked China’s return to flight after 89 days with no launches.

The launch success was confirmed by Chinese state-run media about one hour after liftoff, which confirmed that mission’s passengers are three Yaogan-30 Group 01, or YG-30 01 satellites. The trio, developed by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), was inserted into a sun-synchronous orbit (SSO), at an altitude of 368 by 373 miles (593 by 601 kilometers), inclined 35 degrees.

According to the Xinhua press agency, the Yaogan-30 01 satellites will be used to “conduct electromagnetic probes and other experiments”.

Yaogan is a series of Earth-observing satellites launched by China since 2006. Although Chinese officials insist that these spacecraft are used for civilian purposes, Western analysts believe that Yaogan is a network of spy satellites.

Previous satellite in the series, also designated Yaogan-30, was launched into space by a Long March 2D rocket on May 15, 2016.

The Long March 2C booster used for Friday’s launch is a two-stage rocket developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT). It is mainly used to launch satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) and SSO. The 138 feet (42 meters) tall booster can launch 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 was launched for the first time on September 9, 1982, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, orbiting the Fanhui Shei Weixing recoverable satellite.

Friday’s launch was the 251th flight of the Long March rocket series. It was also the fourth orbital launch from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in 2017 and the ninth mission conducted by China this year.

Next Chinese launch is currently scheduled for October 9 when a Long March 2D rocket will orbit the first Venezuelan remote sensing satellite, named VRSS-1. However, some other mission could be launched sooner as China conducts many of its orbital flights unannounced.

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