China added a trio of new satellites to its clusters of Yaogan orbital reconnaissance spacecraft last week.
A Long March 2D rocket lifted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 8:24 p.m. EDT on Oct. 4 (or 1224 GMT; 8:24 a.m. Beijing Time on Oct. 5). The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) confirmed launch success within an hour of liftoff.
As with the later launches, neither CASC nor Chinese state media provided many details of the spacecraft, describing them only as remote sensing satellites. Chinese state media reports noted only that a “Yaogan 39 satellite” was aboard the rocket.
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However, U.S. Space Force space domain awareness reveals that three satellites were sent into orbit. This is thus a third batch of three satellites in the Yaogan 39 series, following launches on Aug. 31 and Sept. 17.
Yaogan satellites are, in general, classified Chinese remote sensing satellites considered by Western observers to be for military purposes. They include optical, radar and electronic intelligence gathering satellites.
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— China launches classified Yaogan remote sensing satellites (video)
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The new group joins the earlier-launched satellites in roughly circular orbits with an altitude of 307 miles (495 kilometers) orbits and inclined by 35 degrees.
The different groups will pass over the same points above Earth at different times, providing more frequent coverage over areas of interest.
The mission was China’s 46th orbital launch of the year. State-owned CASC said in January that it wants to launch more than 200 spacecraft across 2023. China also has an active commercial launch sector adding to this activity.