Spaceflight Insider

China launches its Tianhui-1C Earth observation satellite

Long March-2D carrier rocket carrying the Tianhui-1C mapping satellite

A Long March 2D carrier rocket carrying the Tianhui-1C mapping satellite blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu Province, Oct. 26, 2015. Image Credit: Xinhua / Yang Shiyao

China successfully launched one of the nation’s Long March 2D rockets on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, lifting the Tianhui-1C mapping satellite into orbit at 3:10 a.m. EDT (7:10 GMT). Liftoff took place from the Launch Area 4 (LA-4) at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the northwestern province of Gansu.

As is so often the case with Chinese launches, the mission got underway without any prior notice. The flight lasted approximately 10 minutes and the satellite was successfully put into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO) of 303 by 308 miles (488 by 496 kilometers) at an inclination of some 97.35 degrees. Confirmation of the successful launch was provided by Chinese media about half an hour after liftoff.

A Long March 2D carrier rocket carrying the Tianhui-1C mapping satellite blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China's Gansu Province, Oct. 26, 2015.

A Long March 2D carrier rocket carrying the Tianhui-1C mapping satellite blasts off from the launch pad at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China’s Gansu Province, Oct. 26, 2015. Image Credit: Xinhua/Yang Shiyao

Built by the Hangtian Dongfanghong Weixing Corporation and the Chinese Academy of Space Technology (CAST), Tianhui-1C (“Sky Drawing”) is an Earth observation satellite that will be used for scientific experiments, land resource surveys, mapping, crop yield estimation, and disaster relief.

The satellite is equipped with two deployable solar panels for energy generation that is stored in onboard batteries. It includes a three-dimensional survey camera and a CCD camera with a ground resolution of 5 meters (16.4 ft.), spectral region of 0.51μm to 0.69μm, and with a camera angle of 25 degrees. The spacecraft is also equipped with a multi-spectrum camera – with a ground resolution of 10 meters, and spectral region of 0.43μm to 0.52μm, 0.52μm to 0.61μm, 0.61μm to 0.69μm, and 0.76μm to 0.90μm. All the cameras aboard are able to produce an image of 60 kilometers (37 miles) wide.

The first Tianhui-1 satellite was launched on Aug. 24, 2010, as a demonstration mission for the use of a stereo imager to gather topographic data from orbit. Tianhui-1B was delivered into orbit on May 6, 2012, to provide a follow-on capability after the three-year service life of the first satellite.

The Tianhui-1 satellites are part of the Ziyuan program that covers different civil and military Earth observation as well as remote sensing programs. The Ziyuan-1 program is focused on Earth resources and looks to have two distinct military and civil branches. The Ziyuan-2 program is understood to be used for aerial surveillance, operated by Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), whereas the Ziyuan-3 series will be used for stereo imaging.

The Long March 2D, used for Monday’s mission is a two-stage rocket developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. It is mainly used to launch a variety of low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellites. The 135 ft (41.15 m) tall booster can launch payloads of up to 3.5 metric tons to LEO and has an SSO capability of up to 1.3 metric tons.

The rocket was launched for the first time on Aug. 9, 1992, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center orbiting the Fanhui Shei Weixing FSW-2-1 recoverable satellite.

Monday’s liftoff was the 228th Chinese orbital launch and the 215th mission carried out by the Long March vehicle family. It was also the 81st orbital launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and the 12th orbital launch (all successful) for China this year. The country plans three more launches by the end of 2015.

The next Chinese mission is currently scheduled to take place in November when a Long March 3B rocket is set to send LaoSat-1, the first Laotian satellite into orbit. The exact date is yet to be announced.

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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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