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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, 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
China launches yet another high-resolution Earth observation satellite, drops rocket debris

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, 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, 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 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.

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; prior to the coronavirus pandemic China was launching some satellites just a few hours apart from each other.

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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.