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China Launches Military Reconnaissance Satellite

China successfully launched another Earth observationsatellite from the Jiuquan space base Friday, according to state-run mediaoutlets.

The Yaogan 9spacecraft blasted off from Jiuquan on a Long March 4C rocket at 0455 GMT(11:55 p.m. EST Thursday), or 12:55 p.m. local time. The three-stage rocketsuccessfully delivered the secret payload to orbit, the state-owned Xinhua newsagency reported.

The Jiuquan launch site is located in the Gobi desert nearthe border between China's Gansu and Inner Mongolia provinces. Jiuquan hashosted the launches of all three Chinesehuman spaceflights to date.

Yaogan 9 is the newest member of a series of satellitesbelieved to harbor optical and radar military reconnaissance capabilities.

The satellite "would be used to conduct scientificexperiment[s], carry out surveys on land resources, forecast grain output andhelp with natural disaster-reduction and prevention endeavor[s]," statemedia reports said.

But most experts believe the Yaogan series includes twovariants with high-resolution electro-optical cameras and cloud-piercing radarsdesigned to see targets through inclement weather or darkness.

In the past, optical Yaogan satellites launched from Jiuquanand radar-equipped spacecraft were shot into orbit from the Taiyuan spacecenter in northern China's Shanxi province.

Before Friday's mission, analysts believed China had orbitedthree electro-optical Yaogan satellites and five radar payloads.

Previous Yaogan launches from Jiuquan used the less powerfulLong March 2D booster. The Long March 4C launched Friday includes a restartablethird stage to increase payload performance. Chinese officials did not addressthe change in rocket, but the more powerful launcher could indicate the missioncarried an upgraded Yaogan satellite.

Official Chinese media did not announce the launch untilThursday, a typical communications procedure for closely-guarded militaryspace missions.

Friday's launch was the second orbital flight of Chineserockets this year, and it marked the ninth space launch to reach orbitworldwide so far in 2010.

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