China added three new satellites to its classified Yaogan Earth observation and reconnaissance series during its most recent launch from southwest China’s highlands.
At 9:28 EDT (1328 GMT, 9:28 p.m. local time) on July 7, a Long March 2D rocket launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province carrying three Yaogan 35 satellites (03 group).
The new trio joins two sets of Yaogan 25 satellite triplets that were launched into orbit in November 2021 and June of this year, respectively. All nine satellites are now orbiting approximately 500 kilometres (310 miles) above the surface of the Earth at an inclination of 35 degrees in order to make repeated passes over areas of interest.
The majority of Yaogan (“remote sensing”) satellites are poorly understood, and descriptions of their purposes are often unclear.
The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which produced both the rocket and spacecraft for the project, indicated that the satellites would be utilised for scientific studies in space, as well as monitoring land use and natural resources, among other scientific reasons.
In its newly published yearbook on space activities, the European Space Policy Institute (ESPI) indicates that analysts believe China’s Yaogan series satellites to serve both civil and military users.
As with the last pair of Yaogan 35 satellite launches, two of the three satellites were developed by Aerospace Dongfanghong Satellite Co., Ltd., while the third was produced by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (SAST), both of which operate under CASC.
According to a mission patch issued by SAST, the payload adapter, which serves as an interface between a rocket stage and a spacecraft being launched into orbit, is equipped with a drag sail designed to deorbit the about 660-pound (300-kilogram) adapter far faster than it would have otherwise. SAST unveiled the drag sail during the June launch of the previous Long March 2D from Xichang.
This was China’s 27th launch of the year. CASC intends to launch more than fifty times in 2022.