China Successfully Launches New Spy Satellite Into Orbit

Chinese Long March 3A Rocket Orbits New Satellite
China has developed a family of boosters over the years, including new development of a heavy-lift launcher to fly by 2011. Image (Image credit: China National Space Administration)

China launched an optical military reconnaissance satellite Thursday (May 10) aboard a Long March 4B rocket, successfully orbiting another member in a fleet of spacecraft spying for Chinese intelligence agencies.

The secretive Yaogan 14 satellite launched at 0706 GMT (3:06 a.m. EDT) from the Taiyuan space center in Shanxi province in northern China. Launch occurred at 3:06 p.m. Beijing time.

The 150-foot-tall Long March 4B rocketflew south from Taiyuan to reach an orbit flying over Earth's poles.

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported the launch was a success. U.S. military tracking data indicated Yaogan 14 reached a nearly circular orbit about 290 miles high with an inclination of 97 degrees.

The Yaogan series of satellites gather optical and radar reconnaissance imagery for Chinese military and intelligence agencies. Yaogan 14 may carry an optical imager designed to gather high-resolution photos of strategic sites around the world.

Xinhua reported Yaogan 14 is a remote sensing satellite for scientific experiments, land surveys, crop monitoring, and responding to natural disasters. But the official news agency never acknowledges the service of Yaogan satellites to China's military-run space program.

Chinese officials have not disclosed details of Yaogan 14's capabilities.

The Long March 4B booster also launched Tiantuo 1, a 20-pound satellite designed for optical imaging experiments, space environment studies, and the reception of Automatic Identification System tracking signals from marine vessels.

Thursday's launch was the seventh space launch of the year for China.

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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.