China launches second Yaogan-34 reconnaissance satellite

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HELSINKI — A Long March 4C rocket sent a new classified Yaogan satellite into orbit Thursday, marking China’s sixth orbital launch of 2022.

The Long March 4C lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert at 3:09 a.m. Eastern (15:09 local time). The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) confirmed launch success within the hour, also revealing the mission payload.

The yaogan-34 (02) satellite joins the first Yaogan-34 satellite which launched at 3:27 a.m. Eastern April 30, 2021. CASC states the two satellites and those on followup launches will operate as a network. 

Chinese state media reported that the new Yaogan satellites will be used to provide information services such as land census, urban planning, crop yield estimation and disaster prevention and reduction.

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 is currently in a 1,116 by 1,063-kilometer orbit inclined by 63 degrees, an orbit which also closely matches that of three sets of Yaogan-31 designation satellite triplets

The Yaogan-31 satellites and their orbits suggest they could be analogous to U.S. Department of Defense Naval Ocean Surveillance System (NOSS) satellite triplets. 

A mission success screen displayed at the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center provided a rare potential clue as to the nature of the satellite with an image of a spacecraft bus in the top right.

The first satellite in the series, Yaogan-1, was launched by the first Long March 4C in April 2006.

The Long March 4C is a three-stage rocket using a propellant combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. It was developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), one of the main institutes under CASC.

The upper stage for Thursday’s launch included a technology verification system, according to SAST.

The launch was China’s sixth orbital launch of the year, all of which have been conducted by CASC.

CASC aims to launch at least 140 spacecraft across more than 50 launches this year alone, including six missions to complete its modular space station. Commercial launch providers are expected to add to China’s launch activities.

China led the world for launches in 2021, setting a new national record of 55 launches in a calendar year.