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China launches Long March 4C rocket with Yaogan 27 spy satellite

A Long March-4C rocket carrying the Yaogan-27 remote sensing satellite blasts off from the launch pad at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Aug. 27, 2015.

A Long March-4C rocket carrying the Yaogan-27 remote sensing satellite blasts off from the launch pad at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on Aug. 27, 2015. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Yan Yan

China launched its latest spy satellite into orbit on Thursday, Aug. 27 at 10:31 p.m. EDT (02:31 GMT) atop a Long March 4C rocket. The flight took place from the country’s LC9 launch complex at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northeastern China’s Shanxi province.

Designated Yaogan 27, the spacecraft is described by Chinese media as a remote sensing satellite that will be used for land surveys, crop yield estimates, and disaster assistance. However, western analysts believe it will be used for other, military purposes.

Long_March_2D_launching_off_pad_with_VRSS-1 Craigboy posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Archive photo of a launch of Long March 4C rocket. Photo Credit: Craigboy

The satellite is a part of the Yaogan Weixing series and is considered to be a third generation high-resolution wide-angle observation system. Yaogan 27 includes a Synthetic Aperture Radar systems for all-weather imaging and instruments that are used to track activity on foreign territory.

China hasn’t provided any information about the satellite’s identity or its orbit. The U.S. military’s Space Surveillance Network shows that the Yaogan 27 was put into an orbit of about 745 miles (1,200 kilometers) above Earth at an inclination of approximately 100 degrees.

This orbit matches that of the four prior Yaogan series satellites (launched in 2009, 2012, 2013, and 2014, respectively), both in altitude and inclination, confirming that Yaogan 27 belongs to this family of spacecraft. China launched the first Yaogan satellite in 2006.

Yaogan 27 is based on the Phoenix Eye-2 bus. The satellites based on this platform can have launch masses in excess of two tonnes with two three-panel solar arrays, a three-axis attitude determination and a control platform for precise pointing, and a propulsion system consisting of orbit correction engines and attitude control thrusters.

Reports from Chinese media revealed that a rocket engine – likely from the first stage of the Long March 4C booster that was used in Thursday’s launch – fell through the roof of a house located in the village of Hongjun in Shaanxi Province.

The village is about 690 kilometers (429 miles) downrange from the launch pad and the engine appears to have plunged through the house’s roof only minutes after the Yaogan 27 spacecraft was launched. According to reports, no one was injured.

The Long March 4C booster has a liftoff mass of an estimated 250 tonnes and is some 54.7 meters (150 ft.) in length with a diameter of 3.4 meters (11 ft.). It is capable of delivering payloads of up to 4.2 tonnes to low-Earth orbit, 2.8 tonnes to a Sun-synchronous orbit and up to 1.5 tonnes to Geostationary Transfer Orbit.

Thursday’s launch was China’s fourth launch of the year and the 17th flight of one of the nation’s Long March 4C launch vehicles. The flight also marked the 220th Chinese launch overall and the 53rd successful flight from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.


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.

Reader Comments

How come Russia and China launch “Spy” satellite and US and EU launches “Reconnaissance” satellites?

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