China launches mapping satellites

A Long March 4B rocket lifts off Tuesday from the Taiyuan space center in northeastern China. Credit: Xinhua

A Chinese Long March 4B rocket successfully launched two Tianhui satellites Monday to conduct land surveys, mapping and scientific experiments in space, according to reports from state-run media.

The satellites lifted off aboard the Long March 4B launcher at 2252 GMT (6:52 p.m. EDT) Monday, China’s government-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The launch occurred at 6:52 a.m. Beijing time Tuesday, a little more than an hour after sunrise at the Taiyuan space base in northern China’s Shanxi province.

The three-stage Long March 4B rocket, standing nearly 15 stories tall, turned south from Taiyuan, dropping its spent rocket bodies on Chinese territory. The Long March 4B’s upper stage delivered the two Tianhui mapping satellites to an orbit more than 310 miles (500 kilometers) high, with an inclination of 97.5 degrees to the equator, according to U.S. military tracking data.

Monday’s mission was not announced in advance by Chinese officials, and warning notices to pilots typically released ahead of space missions were not available before the launch.

Social media users posted videos they claimed show the rocket’s first stage falling near a town downrange from Taiyuan. Additional videos and photos showed part of a rocket engine and structural components near a highway.

The satellite pair launched Monday is designated Tianhui 2-01, according to Xinhua. Chinese state media said the satellites will be used for scientific experiments, land resource surveys, geographic surveys and mapping.

No additional details about the spacecraft were released.

China launched three Tianhui 1 mapping satellites in 2010, 2012 and 2015 into the same type of orbit targeted on Monday’s launch with the two Tianhui 2-01 spacecraft.

Monday’s mission was the seventh orbital launch attempt from China this year. All have been successful except for the inaugural flight of a new commercial satellite launcher developed by a Chinese startup company named OneSpace.

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