HELSINKI — The classified Chinese satellite Shiyan-10 is now active, nearly three weeks after suffering an anomaly during launch that appeared to result in the loss of the spacecraft.

China launched the experimental Shiyan-10 satellite on a Long March 3B from Xichang Satellite Launch Center Sept. 27 but the usual declaration of success did not follow. 

Data from U.S. Space Force’s 18th Space Control Squadron (SPCS) later indicated the payload entered a geosynchronous transfer orbit of 177 x 40,105-kilometer orbit inclined by 51 degrees. 

Chinese state media hours later reported that rocket flight was normal, placing the satellite accurately into its intended transfer orbit, but that satellite operating conditions were abnormal. Specific reasons being further analyzed and investigated.

A 2019 Long March 3B flight saw a insertion of ChinaSat-18 (Zhongxing-18) into geosynchronous transfer orbit, but state media later reported that the satellite had functional abnormally, marking its last activity and update.

But while ChinaSat-18 was lost, with its orbit slowly decaying (184 by 32,330 kilometers), Shiyan-10 has now managed to raise its orbit. 

New orbital elements published by SPCS indicate that Shiyan-10 has performed small burns to raise the perigee of the orbit to 567 x 40,428 km. This suggests smaller, backup engines are being used instead of a larger burn by a main engine to circularize the orbit.

Another TLE set out for Shiyan 10, showing a further small altitude increase to 567 x 40428 km . Looks like yes, the satellite is not as dead as earlier reported, but the small burns suggest that maybe it’s using a backup propulsion system

— Jonathan McDowell (@planet4589) October 18, 2021

While now active, firing its engines more than two weeks after launch, the health and operational status of the satellite—along with its intended purposes—remain unknown.

Neither Chinese state media nor the country’s main space contractor, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) has commented on the development. 

A social media post of an apparent Shiyan-10 ‘big red screen’—which are displayed at Chinese mission control centers following declaration of launch success—appeared briefly on social media before being swiftly deleted. 

An announcement may be made if and when the satellite reaches its intended orbit.

Shiyan are understood to be experimental satellites intended to test new satellite technologies, with the first in the series being launched in 2004.

The Long March 3B is a workhorse launch vehicle for launches to GTO. The China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), a major CASC subsidiary and producer of the launcher, stated in early August that it planned seven further Long March 3B launches before the end of the year. Three of these have now taken place, but it remains unclear if the issue with Shiyan-10 could have been related to the launch vehicle and if delays to the schedule will become apparent.

CASC has conducted 35 launches so far in 2021 and is aiming for more than 40 before the end of the year.

Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. Andrew has previously lived in China and reported from major space conferences there. Based in Helsinki, Finland, he has written for National Geographic, New Scientist, Smithsonian Magazine, Sky...