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China Launches Another Remote-Sensing Satellite

This morning China launched, from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, a Long March-2D rocket with a remote-sensing Yaogan-39 satellite aboard. The satellite was successfully placed into its preset orbit, according to Xinhua. Several are already in orbit from previous launches during 2023.

Xinhua reported: “It was China’s 59th rocket launch this year and the 13th flight of the Long March 2D model in 2023. Of the 500 Long March liftoffs, 297 were carried out by models developed by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology in Beijing and 203 by Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. Both academies are subsidiaries of the State-owned conglomerate China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the nation’s dominant space contractor.”

China has revealed little about this class of satellite, and has described them in generic terms as being for “electromagnetic environment detection and related technical tests.” Western analysts have conjectured that there could be a capability for military reconnaissance purposes, based on their classified nature and on their groupings into specific orbits (the inclination of the orbit). The U.S. also has such satellites—the U.S. Department of Defense Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) satellite triplets.

The Long March-2D rocket is a hypergolic rocket, which means that the rocket engine is fueled by propellant components which spontaneously ignite when they come into contact with each other. This type of rocket engine is simple and reliable, because it needs no ignition system; the ignition is controlled by opening and closing the valves for the different propellant. It is a common feature in many modern spacecrafts, such as different stages in the Ariane and Titan rockets.