HELSINKI — China conducted a pair of launches across Thursday and Friday, sending interferometric synthetic aperture radar and reconnaissance satellites in orbit.

A Long March 2D rocket lifted off from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center at 6:50 a.m. Eastern, March 30, carrying four PIESAT-1 constellation satellites.

The satellites are named PIESAT-1 (A-01) and PIESAT-1-B (01 through 03). The four X-band interferometric synthetic aperture radar (InSAR) satellites will orbit in a hub and spoke formation, with PIESAT-1 (A-01) as the hub.

The satellites are intended to map global non-polar regions at a scale of 1:50,000 and were developed by private satellite developer GalaxySpace for Piesat Information Technology Co. Ltd. 

The launch was facilitated by the China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). CASC’s Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) provided the Long March 2D rocket. Ground station services were provided by Chinese commercial space firm Emposat.

The launch was China’s 13th launch of the year and the seventh in March. The mission is also part of a wider surge of Chinese commercial and state-owned efforts to establish SAR satellite constellations.

Spacety is working with the state-owned China Electronics Technology Group (CETC) to develop a 96-satellite SAR constellation. Spacety was recently sanctioned by the U.S. for allegedly supplying Russian’s Wagner Group with SAR imagery to support its operations in Ukraine.

Beijing Smart Satellite Space Technology Co., Ltd., is working with an institute of CETC to develop its own satellites.

China’s 14th launch of the year followed a day later. A Long March 4C rocket lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center at 2:27 a.m. Eastern, March 31. 

Little is known about the satellite. Chinese state media reports used the standard language used to describe Yaogan satellites. 

Yaogan-34 (04) will be used for national land surveying, urban planning, road network designing, crop yield estimation, disaster prevention and mitigation, according to China Daily.

The classified nature of the Yaogan (meaning “remote sensing”) missions and their respective orbits lead Western analysts to believe the series is military in nature, providing a range of reconnaissance capabilities. 

The first Yaogan-34 satellite was launched in 2021, with the (02) and (03) satellites joining it in orbit through separate launches in 2022.

The earlier Yaogan-34 series satellites are in 1,120 by 1,050-kilometer orbits inclined by 63 degrees. The orbit closely matches that of three sets of Yaogan-31 designation satellite triplets. 

CASC is planning more than 60 launches in 2023. Various Chinese commercial companies plan to add 20 or more launches to the overall figure. 

Commercial firm Space Pioneer has its Tianlong-2 rocket on the pad at Jiuquan, but the launch has slipped into April, according to latest airspace closure notices. 

The launch could be the first Chinese commercial liquid propellant rocket to reach orbit. Landspace announced March 31 that its second Zhuque-2 methalox rocket has completed final assembly, following the failure of the first rocket in December.

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...