May 30, 2016

Chinese military spy satellite deployed in orbit

A Long March 4B rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan space center in China at 0322 GMT Saturday (11:22 p.m. EST Friday). Credit: Xinhua
A Long March 4B rocket lifted off from the Taiyuan space center in China at 0322 GMT Saturday (11:22 p.m. EST Friday). Credit: Xinhua

China launched a Long March 4B rocket Saturday to deploy a military reconnaissance satellite into orbit 300 miles above Earth.

The Yaogan 26 satellite lifted off at 0322 GMT Saturday (11:22 p.m. EST Friday) from the Taiyuan space center in northern China’s Shanxi province, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Liftoff was at 11:22 a.m. Beijing time.

Chinese state media did not announce the launch in advance, keeping with customary practice for rocket launches with Chinese military satellites.

A 15-story Long March 4B rocket placed the Yaogan 26 spacecraft into a near-circular orbit about 485 kilometers — or 301 miles — above Earth at an inclination of 97.4 degrees, according to tracking data released by the U.S. Air Force’s Space Surveillance Network.

“The satellite will mainly be used for scientific experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster prevention,” Xinhua reported.

Yaogan 26’s orbit, launch vehicle and launch site suggest the satellite is a follow-on to a series of military surveillance spacecraft fitted with high-resolution optical cameras to look down on Earth.

The parameters of Yaogan 26’s launch match satellites sent into orbit from China in December 2008, November 2011 and September 2014.

Western analysts believe the Yaogan name is a cover for China’s spy satellite program, with sets of spacecraft dedicated to optical and radar imaging, maritime surveillance, and other missions.

China plans at least one more launch before the end of the year, with liftoff of a Chinese weather satellite aboard a Long March 3A rocket planned for Dec. 31.

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