Chinese Long March rocket launches oceanography satellite

A Long March 4B rocket takes off with China’s Haiyang 2D oceanography satellite. Credit: Xinhua

A Long March 4B rocket successfully launched an oceanography satellite Wednesday from northwestern China, hours before officials at a different spaceport scrubbed the planned launch of a cargo ship to deliver supplies to the Chinese space station.

China’s unpiloted Tianzhou 2 supply freighter was supposed to blast off on a Long March 7 rocket around 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) Wednesday to dock with the Tianhe core module of the the Chinese station, delivering provisions, extravehicular spacesuits, and other gear for three astronauts training to launch to the growing orbital complex next month.

But officials called off the launch from the Wenchang space base on Hainan Island due to unspecified technical reasons, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency. Chinese media did not immediately announce a new target launch date for the Tianzhou 2 mission.

The Tianzhou 2 cargo ship is the second of 11 spacecraft China plans to launch before the end of 2022 to assemble and outfit the Chinese space station. The nearly 25-ton (22.5-metric-ton) Tianhe core module launched last month forms the centerpiece of the complex, and two similarly-sized space station modules are scheduled to launch in 2022.

Before then, China plans to launch a series of crew and cargo ships to the Tianhe module. Once the Tianzhou 2 mission docks with Tianhe, three astronauts are scheduled to launch in June on the Shenzhou 12 spacecraft to begin a stay of up to three months aboard the nascent space station.

In an unrelated mission, China launched a Long March 4B rocket at 12:03 a.m. EDT (0403 GMT) Wednesday from the Jiuquan launch center in the Gobi Desert of northwestern China.

The three-stage, liquid-fueled Long March 4B rocket delivered China’s Haiyang 2D oceanography satellite to a 580-mile-high (935-kilometer) rocket inclined 66 degrees to the equator.

A Long March 7 rocket rolled out to its launch pad May 16 at the Wenchang launch base, moving into position for liftoff with the Tianzhou 2 cargo ship. Credit: CNSA

The Haiyang 2D satellite was built by the China Academy of Space Technology, a state-owned aerospace manufacturer, for China’s Ministry of Natural Resources. The new oceanography satellite, which hosts a radar altimeter and microwave scatterometer, will collect data on sea surface height, wave height, and maritime wind fields, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the country’s primary government-run space contractor.

The spacecraft also has a payload to track ship traffic and a data collection system to relay measurements from ocean buoys to forecast centers and other users.

The Haiyang satellite series is named for the Chinese word for “ocean.”

China operates two families of Haiyang satellites — the Haiyang 1-series and Haiyang 2-series — that carry different sets of oceanography instruments. The latest member of the Haiyang 1 family, Haiyang 1D, launched last year with imaging sensors to measure ocean color, data which officials said will help track pollution and natural ocean constituents such as chlorophyll.

Email the author.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.