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Long March 2C soars into the sky with Yaogan-30 triplet

A Long March 2C rocket launches the Yaogan-30 04 mission into orbit. Photo Credit: Xinhua

A Long March 2C rocket launches the Yaogan-30 04 mission to orbit. Photo Credit: Xinhua

A Long March 2C rocket soared into the sky Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, sending a trio of Yaogan-30 satellites into orbit. It was the fifth orbital mission for China in just 17 days. The vehicle thundered off at 12:39 a.m. EST (5:39 GMT) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) in China’s Sichuan Province.

China has not disclosed any details of the mission or its flight timeline. However, if the mission proceeded as usual, the triplet’s trek into orbit should have lasted some 10-20 minutes.

A rendering of the three Yaogan-30 Group 4 satellites launched Jan. 25, 2018. Image Credit: CCTV

A rendering of the three Yaogan-30 Group 4 satellites launched Jan. 25, 2018. Image Credit: CCTV

Being powered by 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).

The newly-orbited trio, designated Yaogan-30 04, consists of three identical satellites (Yaogan-30 J, K and L) each 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.

A report released in January 2015 by the National Institute of Advanced Studies located in Bangalore, India, suggests that the Yaogan satellites are part of an anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) system that Beijing is developing and fielding. 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.”

Contrary to independent opinions, China describes the Yaogan spacecraft as remote sensing satellites dedicated for civilian purposes. Beijing has insisted that they are designed to conduct scientific experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief. According to the Xhinhua state-run press agency, the latest batch of Yaogan-30 satellites that was launched Dec. 26, 2017, was sent into space to in order to perform electromagnetic environmental probes and other experiments.

With the Jan. 25 launch, the network of Yaogan-30 satellites currently in orbit has expanded to 12 spacecraft. The first Yaogan spacecraft was launched in April of 2006, while the first Yaogan-30 trio was delivered to orbit on Sept. 29, 2017.

The Long March 2C booster employed for Thursday’s flight 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-foot (42-meter) 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 missions, an optional third stage can be included.

On Sept. 9, 1982, the Long March 2C carried out its first flight. Liftoff took place from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center to orbit the Fanhui Shei Weixing recoverable satellite.

Thursday’s flight was the 265th flight of the Long March rocket series and the second mission conducted from XSLC in 2018. China’s next orbital mission is currently slated to take place on Feb. 2 when a Long March 2D launcher is scheduled to carry seven satellites into space.

Of the 90 global orbital launch attempts in 2017, China was responsible for 18. Now, less than a month into 2018, there have already been 12 worldwide launches (including an Ariane 5 several hours after the Yaogan-30 mission)—nearly half have been performed by China.

It has been reported that China hopes to launch up to 40 orbital-class rockets before the end of this year. The country’s record is 22, which was set in 2016.

 

 

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Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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