China Launches Earth-Mapping Satellite in 2012's 1st Space Mission

China's Ziyuan 3 Satellite Launch
At 11:17 on January 9, 2012, China's civil satellite "Resource-III" successfully launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, using the "Long March-4B" carrier rocket. (Image credit: Ministry of National Defense of the People's Republic of China)

China launched a Long March rocket Monday with a high-resolution civil mapping satellite to survey natural resources and a craft to relay marine tracking data for U.S.-based Orbcomm Inc.

The Long March 4B launcher lifted off at 0317 GMT Monday (10:17 p.m. EST Sunday) from the Taiyuan space center in Shanxi province, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

It was 11:17 a.m. Beijing time.

The 15-story rocket and the Ziyuan 3 satellite achieved orbit about 12 minutes later. The rocket's upper stage injected the craft into an orbit more than 300 miles high with an inclination of 97.5 degrees. [12 Space Missions to Watch in 2012]

On January 9, 2012, China's civil satellite Ziyuan 3 launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center. (Image credit: Ministry of National Defense of the People's Republic of China)

Developed and built by the China Academy of Space Technology, the 5,842-pound satellite carries an electro-optical imaging payload comprising three pointing forward, down and aft. The ground-facing camera has a resolution of 2.5 meters, or 8.2 feet.

Ziyuan 3 also features an infrared spectrometer.

The satellite is devoted to civil applications, according to Xinhua.

The news agency said Ziyuan 3 will aid in land resource surveys, natural disaster prevention, agriculture development, water management, and urban planning.

The rocket also orbited VesselSat 2, a 63-pound satellite designed to relay positions of ships around the world. Constructed by LuxSpace of Luxembourg, the spacecraft's services will supplement Orbcomm's next-generation communications satellites due to begin launching this year.

Monday's mission was the first space launch worldwide in 2012.

Copyright 2012, all rights reserved.

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Stephen Clark is the Editor of Spaceflight Now, a web-based publication dedicated to covering rocket launches, human spaceflight and exploration. He joined the Spaceflight Now team in 2009 and previously wrote as a senior reporter with the Daily Texan. You can follow Stephen's latest project at and on Twitter.