China launches three more Yaogan spysats

A Long March 2C rocket lifts off with three more Yaogan 30 spy satellites for the Chinese military. Credit: Xinhua

China launched another trio of Yaogan 30 military spy satellites July 19, bringing to 30 the number of similar Chinese spacecraft shot into orbit since 2017 on suspected naval surveillance missions.

A Long March 2C rocket carried the newest three Yaogan 30-class satellites into orbit after liftoff 0019 July 19 (8:19 p.m. July 18) from the Xichang launch base in Sichuan Province in southwestern China.

The 140-foot-tall (43-meter) Long March 2C rocket flew southeast from Xichang and released its first stage and payload shroud to fall on Chinese territory. The rocket’s second stage placed the three Yaogan 30 satellites and a small rideshare payload into a 370-mile-high (600-kilometer) orbit inclined 35 degrees to the equator, according to U.S. military tracking data.

Chinese officials heralded the launch as a success, marking the country’s 23rd successful orbital launch so far this year.

The constellation of Yaogan 30 satellites are designed to “carry out electromagnetic environment detection and related technical verification,” according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the country’s biggest state-owned space program contractor.

The Chinese government uses the Yaogan name for the country’s military satellites, and the Yaogan 30 family is believed to be designed for a signals intelligence mission.

Some analysts suggested the Yaogan 30 family of satellites could be testing new electronic eavesdropping equipment, or helping the Chinese military track U.S. and other foreign naval deployments. But details about the spacecraft and their missions have not been disclosed by the Chinese government.

The other satellite launched July 19 was Tianqi 15, a small commercial data relay satellite for the Beijing-based company Guodian Gaoke.

CASC said the Long March 2C rocket used on the launch July 19 was equipped with a parachute on its payload fairing. The parachute was designed to demonstrate better control of the fairing’s landing zone downrange from Xichang.

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