China launched three classified remote sensing satellites on Friday (Aug. 19), which are joining three earlier sets of Yaogan 35 series reconnaissance satellites in orbit.
A Long March 2D rocket lifted off at 1:37 p.m. EDT (1737 GMT, 1:37 a.m. local time) on Aug. 19 from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province carrying the three satellites designated as the Yaogan 35 (04 group).
The trio are likely to join the three sets of Yaogan 35 satellite triplets sent into orbit by three similar launches in November 2021 and June and July of this year. The first nine satellites are now orbiting at roughly 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth, with an inclination of 35 degrees in order to provide regular, repeated passes over areas of interest.
Little is known about most Yaogan ("remote sensing") satellites, and descriptions of their uses are typically vague.
Chinese state media stated (opens in new tab) that the newly launched spacecraft will be mainly used to "conduct science experiments, land resource surveys, yield estimation of agricultural products and disaster prevention and reduction."
Western space analysts suggest, however, that the Yaogan series satellites serve both civil and military users in China.
A mission patch (opens in new tab) released by SAST, the manufacturer that provided the Long March 2D rocket for the launch, indicates that the mission’s payload adapter — which serves as an interface between a rocket stage and the spacecraft being sent into orbit — carries a drag sail designed to help deorbit the roughly 660-pound (300 kilograms) adapter much sooner than it otherwise would.
SAST debuted the drag sail on another Long March 2D launch from Xichang in June. The mission was China's 32nd orbital launch of the year.