Thursday, January 25, 2018

Long March 2C Soars into the Sky with Yaogan-30 Triplet

Long March 2C launch on January 25, 2018. Credit: Xinhua

A Long March 2C soared into the sky on Thursday, January 25, sending a trio of Yaogan-30 satellites into orbit. It is fifth orbital mission for China in just 17 days. The rocket thundered off at 5:39 GMT from the launch pad the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) in China’s Sichuan Province.

China has not disclosed any details of Thursday’s mission and the timeline of the flight. However, if the mission proceeded as usual, the rocket’s trek to orbit should have lasted some 10-20 minutes.

Being powered by its four YF-20C engines, the Long March 2C booster performed a brief vertical ascent and started heading southeast, over mainland China, toward the Philippine Sea, avoiding flying over populated areas of Taiwan.

The flight concluded with the insertion of the three satellites into low-Earth orbit (LEO) at an altitude of approximately 373 miles (600 kilometers).

Some Chinese websites and Gunter's Space Page first reported that a small satellite, named WeiNa-1, piggybacked on Thursday's mission. Xinhua later confirmed that "a micro-nano 1A satellite was also sent into space along with the Yaogan-30 satellites".

The newly orbited triplet, designated Yaogan-30 04, consists of three identical satellites (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 Yaogan satellites are of military nature and employ either optical or synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensors.

For instance, a report released in January 2015 by the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, India, suggest that Yaogan satellites are part of an Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) system that Beijing is developing. The document states that “the Chinese have in place a robust space based system that performs the location and tracking functions for the ASBM system”.

In contrary to independent opinions, China describes Yaogan spacecraft as remote sensing satellites dedicated for civilian purposes. Beijing insists that they are designed to conduct scientific experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief. According to Xinhua, the latest batch of Yaogan-30 satellites, launched December 26, 2017 was sent into space to in order to perform electromagnetic environmental probes and other experiments.

After Thursday’s launch the network of Yaogan-30 satellites currently in orbit expanded to 12 spacecraft. First Yaogan satellite was launched in April 2006, while the first Yaogan-30 trio was delivered into space on September 29, 2017.

The Long March 2C booster employed for Thursday’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 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 was the 265th flight of the Long March rocket series and the second mission conducted from XSLC this year. China’s next orbital mission is currently scheduled for February 2, when a Long March 2D launcher will carry seven satellites into space.

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