Chinese Rocket Launches With Top Secret Spy Satellite

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)

A Chinese remote sensingmission, believed to be a military reconnaissance satellite, lifted off from adesert launch pad on a Long March rocket on Wednesday, state media reported.

The Long March2D rocket blasted off at 0842 GMT (3:42 a.m. EST), or during the afternoonat the Jiuquan launching base near the border of northern China's InnerMongolia and Gansu provinces.

The 135-foot-tall booster'stwo stages, fueled by hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, guided the Yaogan 7payload into a sun-synchronous orbit about 400 miles high, according to publictracking data.

The state-run Xinhua newsagency reported the satellite will be used for scientific experiments, landresources surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster response applications.

But the craft is likely anelectro-optical spy satellite to be operated by the Chinese military. Observersbelieve the Yaogan series, which began launching in 2006, is a new fleet ofhigh-resolution optical and radar reconaissance satellites. The new satellitewould be the third Yaogan spacecraft fitted with an optical imager.

Yaogan 7 was built by theChina Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science andTechnology Corp., according to Xinhua.

Wednesday's launch wasannounced less than a day in advance, typical publicity for Chinese militarylaunches.

The flight was the fifthlaunch of a ChineseLong March rocket this year, and the 69th space launch to reach orbitworldwide in 2009.

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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.