China launches eight more Earth-imaging microsats

A Long March 2D rocket lifts off with eight Jilin 1 Earth-imaging satellites. Credit: CASC

China launched eight more microsatellites for the Jilin 1 high-resolution Earth observation constellation May 4, five days after a separate mission deployed five similar Jilin 1 payloads into orbit.

The launches signal an uptick in the pace of satellite deployments for the Jilin 1 constellation, a fleet of small remote sensing satellites developed by Chang Guang Satellite Technology Co. Ltd., a commercial remote sensing company based in China’s Jilin province.

The Jilin 1 fleet is aimed at serving commercial users of Earth imaging data, including urban planners and infrastructure developers and the mining, agriculture, forestry, and maritime industries.

Eight satellites for Chang Guang launched May 4 at 10:38 p.m. EDT (0238 GMT on May 5) aboard a Long March 2D rocket, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., or CASC, the largest state-owned enterprises overseeing China’s space industry.

Heading south from the Taiyuan launch base in northern China, the two-stage Long March 2D rocket dropped its first stage over Chinese territory a few minutes after liftoff. A second stage deployed the eight payloads into a near-circular polar orbit with an average altitude of around 334 miles (538 kilometers), at an inclination of about 97.7 degrees to the equator, according to tracking data published by the U.S. military.

The payloads included the Jilin 1 Kuanfu 01C optical wide-area imaging spacecraft, plus seven Jilin 1 Gaofen 03D-class high-resolution optical observation satellites. The mission was managed by China Great Wall Industry Corp., a subsidiary of government-owned CASC responsible for booking rides on Chinese Long March rockets for commercial payloads.

More than 50 Earth-imaging satellites, typically about the size of a microwave oven or a mini-refrigerator, have launched in the Jilin 1 constellation since 2015.

Sixteen Jilin 1 satellites have launched this year. Most recently, five Jilin 1 satellites lifted off April 29 on a Long March 11H rocket launched from an ocean platform in the East China Sea.

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