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China launches Fengyun-4B weather satellite to orbit

A new Chinese weather satellite launched into orbit Wednesday (June 2) with "complete success," according to one of the participating state contractors.

The Fengyun-4B soared into space aboard a Long March 3B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, at 12:17 p.m. EDT (1717 GMT, or 12:17 a.m. local time Thursday, June 3). 

The new satellite joins a network of geostationary and polar-orbiting Fengyun satellites and will go into geostationary orbit, according to NASASpaceflight.com. The first of the Fengyun series, a low-Earth orbit satellite testing machine called FY-1A, launched in 1988 for a short mission, the report added.

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A Chinese Long March 3B rocket launches the Fengyun-4B satellite to orbit from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center. (Image credit: Guo Wenbin/Xinhua)

Fengyun-4B will be "mainly used for weather analysis and forecasting, short-term meteorological disaster warning, short-term climate forecasting, ecological environment and space environment monitoring," state contractor China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. said in a report machine-translated into English.

The last geostationary satellite launched in the series was Fengyun-4A, which flew to space in 2016. It also has been used to capture moon and Earth pictures during Chinese launches to lunar regions. Newer imaging and space environment payloads aboard Fengyun-4B "will improve China's high-frequency monitoring of the atmosphere and observation ability of a number of smaller-scale and shorter-duration weather phenomena," SpaceNews said in a recent report.

China plans more than 40 launches in 2021, SpaceNews said in January, and recently it came under scrutiny from the new Biden administration. Current law from a 2011 decision forbids NASA from most activities with China without express support from Congress, but the government's concern increased following the launch of a new Chinese space station and China's first robotic landing on Mars, among other activities.

Biden's new appointee for NASA administrator, Bill Nelson, condemned the decision by China to allow a large Long March 5B rocket to plunge uncontrollably to Earth in May, the second such incident in a year. Further, in recent weeks Congressional representatives grilled both Nelson and Biden's nominee for deputy administrator, Pam Melroy, about China's activities in space. 

In testimony, Nelson pointed to recent Chinese robotic missions to the moon and Mars as proof that NASA needs to move swiftly in implementing its own human landing program, called Artemis. At her own hearing, Melroy said the "aggressive behavior" of China in space — including intellectual property theft — is meant to take away "space superiority" from the United States.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for Space.com 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.