China launches a second Gaofen-12 Earth observation satellite

China launched a new satellite Tuesday (March 30) to increase the number of high-definition Earth observation satellites available to state authorities.

The Gaofen-12 (02) satellite — the second of its kind — launched at 6:45 p.m. EDT (2245 GMT, or 6:45 a.m. Wednesday, March 31 local time) from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China, according to state media. The rocket used was a Long March 4C.

Video footage from the launch, posted by CGTN Global Business (opens in new tab), shows insulation tiles falling off the rocket as the red glare of the booster fills the predawn sky.

Video: Chinese rocket's insulation tiles rain down in nighttime launch (opens in new tab)
China launches yet another high-resolution Earth observation satellite, drops rocket debris (opens in new tab)

A Chinese Long March 4C rocket launches the Gaofen-12 (02) Earth observation satellite to orbit. (Image credit: CCTV)

"The satellite will be used in land surveys, urban planning, road network design and crop yield estimation, as well as disaster relief," state media provider Xinhua said in a statement (opens in new tab), noting that the satellite "entered its planned orbit successfully."

U.S. satellite tracking suggested that the satellite is now in a 372-mile (600 kilometers) sun-synchronous orbit, SpaceNews said (opens in new tab), meaning that the satellite has consistent lighting conditions on the Earth below. The report added that Gaofen-12 (02) likely has some military uses.

"Resolution capabilities and other information has been published for lower numbered Gaofen series satellites," SpaceNews said. "However, information for Gaofen satellites numbered 8 and above has not been openly released, suggesting the satellites are for national defense purposes."

The new satellite will join other radar and optical remote sensing satellite in the Gaofen series (opens in new tab) for the China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS). The first of this series, Gaofen-1, launched in 2013 with capabilities in high-resolution, panchromatic and multispectral imaging. The first Gaofen-12 satellite, called Gaofen-12 (01), launched in 2019 (opens in new tab).

This launch marked the eighth launch attempt by China this year, with seven of those launches happening successfully. The country hopes to host more than 40 launches this year, according to Space News (opens in new tab); prior to the coronavirus pandemic China was launching some satellites just a few hours apart (opens in new tab) from each other.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: