HELSINKI — China launched a new classified satellite Wednesday as part of an apparent space systems development test program.

A Long March 11 solid rocket lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China at 7:41 a.m. Eastern, March 15, rising into the dusk above the Gobi Desert.

The state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) announced within an hour of launch that the payload, designated Shiyan-19, had successfully entered its intended, near-polar orbit.

No details regarding the satellite were provided by CASC nor Chinese state media. Xinhua stated that the “experiment satellite will primarily be used for land resource surveys, urban planning, disaster prevention and mitigation, and other missions.”

The Shanghai Institute of Satellite Engineering (509th institute) of the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST) developed the satellite. SAST stated that the mission uses a platform developed to provide low-cost miniaturized, lightweight, and high-functional density satellites. SAST itself is a major space launch vehicle and satellite maker under CASC.

Shiyan are understood to be a series of test satellites, with the first launched in 2004. Shiyan satellite numbers are often non-sequential and sent into a variety of orbits.

They have been developed by a range of entities, including China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the Harbin Institute of Technology (HIT) and SAST.

An analysis of publicly available information by the China Aerospace Studies Institute suggests that Shiyan series satellites play an early role in the space systems development process.

“China has used this series to pilot multiple new technologies on one satellite bus specifically to develop a platform for efficient payload integration, as well as to determine the applicability of the payloads,” the analysis reads.

China’s Shiyan-10 satellite launched in September 2021 was initially reported by CASC to be stranded in geosynchronous transfer orbit after abnormal function of the satellite. It was later It was later tracked by U.S. Space Force in a highly elliptical 1,880 by 38,881 kilometer altitude orbit with an inclination of 63.6 degrees. The large alteration to its earlier orbital inclination, putting it into a Molniya orbit. 

Shiyan-10 (02) launched in late December last year and has similar orbital parameters but with a different right ascension of the ascending node, increasing the time that one of the pair of Shiyan-10 satellites is visible over the northern hemisphere. 

The launch of Shiyan-19 was Chin’s 10th of 2023, in which CASC aims to launch more than 60 times. CASC has separately launched the Horus-1 and Horus-2 remote sensing satellites for Egypt and the Tianhui-6 A and B pair of mapping satellites since launching the Zhongxing-26 HTS communications satellite Feb. 23.

The Long March 11 most recently launched the Shiyan-21 satellite from Xichang in southwest China. The rocket can also launch from a mobile sea platform.

CASC appears to be increasing its production of the 20.8-meter-long, four-stage rocket, with its manufacturer, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), stating it can now produce 10 Long March 11 rockets per year. It is also expected to launch an international payload in 2023, according to state media.

Commercial and state-owned spinoff actors have declared plans which, in aggregate, amount to more than 20 further launches. The Tianlong-2 rocket is expected to make its attempt to become the first liquid propellant rocket from this diverse grouping to reach orbit before the end of March.

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...