China has conducted a secretive launch of three Yaogan-30 03 military satellites onboard a Long March-2C (Y29) rocket at 19:44 UTC from the LC3 Launch Complex at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, Sichuan province on Dec. 25, Monday.
The launch was the 260th mission for the Long March rocket family, marking the conclusion of China’s space mission in 2017.
Yaogan series satellites are often described by Chinese state media as providing remote sensing for land resources and electromagnetic environment detection, but are perceived by Western observers to be designed for reconnaissance purposes for China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
Monday’s launch follows Yaogan-30 satellite launches on September 29 and November 24, which in combination could potentially provide high revisit coverage over areas of special interest to the PLA.
The Yaogan-30 (03) trio of satellites were developed by the Microsatellite Innovation Institute under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
Yaogan (in full Yaogan Weixing (遥感卫星), “Remote Sensing Satellite”; sometimes written YaoGan) refers to a series of Chinese reconnaissance satellites launched in the early 21st century.
Chinese media describe the satellites as intended for “scientific experiments, land survey, crop yield assessment, and disaster monitoring”. Western analysts suspect that they are also used for military purposes. Analysts believe that each satellite employs either optical or synthetic aperture radar (SAR) sensors and that the SAR satellites are of the Jian Bing-5 or higher series.
The SAR satellite was developed by the Shanghai Academy of Space Flight Technology(SAST). The electro-optical digital imaging satellite was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). It is carried into space atop a Chang Zheng (Long March) rocket.
Yaogan satellites have been launched from both the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China’s northern Shanxi province and the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China’s northwestern Gansu province.
The first Yaogan satellite was launched in 2006, whereas the second generation of the series was inaugurated in 2008.