China launches radar satellite for environmental monitoring

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Mission follows separate launches of the ASO-S solar observatory and a pair of navigation enhancement satellites days earlier.

HELSINKI — China launched a 5-meter-resolution synthetic aperture radar satellite late Wednesday, continuing a period of intense Chinese launch activity. 

A Long March 2C rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China at 6:53 p.m. Eastern (2253 UTC) Oct. 12, with insulation tiles falling away from the upper stage as the rocket rose into the sky.

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) confirmed launch success within the hour. The launch is China’s 18th since early August.

Aboard was the S-band S-SAR01 satellite, also named as Huanjing-2E, adding to a series of satellites for environmental monitoring. The satellite carries a deployable truss antenna, similar to that on the Huanjing-1C satellite launched in 2012. An object associated with the launch was tracked in a 498 by 763-kilometer orbit inclined by 97.65 degrees.

The 5-meter resolution S-band radar image data from S-SAR01 will support “disaster prevention, reduction, relief, and environmental protection,” and also “serve natural resources, water conservancy, agriculture, forestry, earthquakes, and other fields,” according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Its main users will be the Ministry of Emergency Management and the Ministry of Ecology and Environment, according to Chinese state media. 

The satellite was built by DFH Satellite Co. Ltd, a subsidiary of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the main spacecraft maker under CASC. The Long March 2C was provided by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALT), also under CASC.

The launch of Huanjing-2E follows the Huanjing-2A and 2B medium resolution optical satellites launched in 2020, which replaced the 1A and 1B satellites launched in 2008.

The satellite adds to the country’s growing SAR capabilities while a series of commercial SAR constellations also appear to be in the works, some involving public-private partnerships.

Sending out ASO-S

Sea launch of the CentiSpace-1 S5 and S6 satellites via Long March 11 on Oct. 7, 2022. Credit: Ourspace/CNSA

Days earlier China launched the Advanced Space-borne Solar Observatory (ASO-S), the country’s first dedicated satellite for studying the sun. Launch took place at 7:43 p.m. Eastern (23:43 UTC) Oct. 8, with the four-year-mission seeking to provide insight into the relationship between the sun’s magnetic fields and solar flares and coronal mass ejections.

The mission was preceded by the launch of a pair of navigation enhancement satellites, named CentiSpace-1 S5 and S6, just under 36 hours earlier. 

The duo were sent into orbit by a Long March 11 solid rocket lifting off from a converted barge for providing mobile offshore launch. The launch was China’s fourth sea launch as the country seeks to grow a satellite and launch ecosystem around the sea launch facilities at Haiyang in the eastern province of Shandong.

The launches were China’s 43rd, 44th and 45th of 2022. The vast majority have been conducted by CASC, which is planning more than 50 launches across 2022. CASC is currently gearing up to launch the third and final Tiangong space station module late in October.

The second module, Wentian, which launched in July, was recently transpositioned to a side docking port where it will remain for the lifetime of the Tiangong outpost, while also making way for the arrival of the 22-metric-ton Mengtian module.