China Launches New Earth-Watching Satellite
China's Long March 4B rocket in action during a 2003 launch.
Credit: AP Photo/Xinhua.

China's first space launch of the year came Wednesday when a multipurpose remote sensing satellite was carried into orbit to begin a mission to aid scientific users and serve economic needs.

Called Remote Sensing Satellite-1 in reports by the state-run Xinhua news agency, the nearly 6,000-pound (2,721-kilogram) spacecraft was launched from the Taiyuan launch center in the highlands of northeastern China's Shanxi province. The Long March 4B rocket lifted off 6:48 p.m. EDT at (2248 GMT), or just after sunrise Thursday morning at the launch site.

The launcher's three liquid-fueled stages injected the payload into its planned orbit, Xinhua said. The payload was likely released into a near-polar orbit some 375 miles (603 kilometers) high.

Official media reports said the satellite was largely developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. Objectives of the craft's mission include a slate of scientific experiments, land and agricultural surveys, and disaster monitoring, according to Xinhua.

Several more launches are scheduled for later in the year with research and communications satellites, said a Chinese space official quoted by Xinhua. Wednesday evening's flight marked the 15th space launch of the year to reach orbit from locations worldwide.

China claims the liftoff marked the 47th consecutive successful space launch dating back to October 1996. It was the first launch for the nation's space program since the two-man Shenzhou 6 capsule conducted its five-day mission last October.

The next crewed mission could occur in September 2008 near the time of that year's Summer Olympics in Beijing, according to officials cited by state media. That flight - called Shenzhou 7 - will carry three astronauts and could attempt the country's first spacewalk.

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