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China launches 3 satellites on 2 rockets in 3 days

China is picking up its satellite launch pace once again.

The country launched three satellites into space during two missions from different space centers over three days in the last week, according to reports from the country's space program and state media.

The first launch soared into space from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China's Shanxi province. Two satellites from the China Academy of Space Technology flew into orbit on a Long March 4B rocket at 11:10 a.m. local time Friday, July 3 (11:10 p.m. Thursday, July 2 EDT or 0310 July 3 GMT), according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC).

One satellite, identified as Gaofen by SpaceNews, was billed in Chinese media as a remote sensing satellite for civilian use. The satellite's resolution is less than a meter (three feet) and it will operate in an orbit to place the sun at a consistent angle on the surface, called a sun-synchronous orbit. This orbit makes it easier to compare pictures between satellite passes.

A Chinese Long March 4B rocket carrying Gaofen remote-sensing satellite and the Xibaipo space science satellite from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center on July 3, 2020.  (Image credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation)

"It [the satellite] can provide high-precision remote-sensing image data for several industries including surveying and mapping, natural resources, emergency management, agriculture, ecological environment, residential construction and forestry," CASC said in a statement. The satellite will obtain images of China's land "and surrounding areas", added state media source CCTV.

The rocket also carried a satellite to popularize space science for teenagers, CCTV said, through doing science experiments such as transmitting images and voice data. The satellite is called Xibaipo, sharing a name with the region that once hosted the site of the Central Committee of the Community Party of China in the late 1940s.

Two days after these satellites flew into space, China successfully performed another launch from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, CCTV and CASC said. 

A Chinese Long March 2D rocket launches the second Shiyan-6 space environment satellite into orbit from the  Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on July 5, 2020. (Image credit: China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation)

This launch occurred at 7:44 a.m. Beijing time on Sunday, July 5 (7:44 p.m. EDT or 1144 GMT on Saturday, July 4). This satellite is the second of the Shiyan-6 series and will be used to study the environment of space and to do "related technology experiments", whose nature was not disclosed. According to SpaceNews, such descriptions are also used for the Chinese Yaogan series satellites, which Western observers peg as military reconnaissance vehicles.

China had a busy late 2019 and early 2020, with launches frequently occurring days or hours apart — sometimes at the same space center. While the pace slowed in the spring amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, China has carefully resumed its work while implementing physical distancing measures.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.