A Long March 2D rocket boosted a Chinese military imaging satellite into a 300-mile-high orbit Sunday after liftoff from a remote launch base in the country’s northwestern frontier.
The clandestine payload rode a two-stage, 134-foot-tall (41-meter) Long March 2D booster that took off at 0411 GMT Sunday (11:11 p.m. EDT Saturday) from the Jiuquan launch base in the Gobi Desert in northwest China, according to the country’s state-run Xinhua news agency.
Xinhua described the payload, known as LKW-1, as a “land exploration satellite.”
Sunday’s launch, which occurred at 12:11 p.m. Beijing time Sunday, was not formally announced in advance, other than the customary notice for pilots to stay out of drop zones south of Jiuquan.
Western analysts believe the satellite is likely a high-resolution imaging platform for the Chinese military.
Tracking data obtained and released by the U.S. military showed the spacecraft in a near-circular polar orbit around 305 miles (490 kilometers) above Earth, with an inclination of approximately 97.5 degrees to the equator. Chinese media said the launch placed its payload into the intended orbit.
Sunday’s launch marked the 15th Chinese space launch attempt of the year. Fourteen of the missions successfully reached orbit.
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