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China launches 2 orbital missions in less than 2 hours (videos)

China continues to ratchet up its spaceflight pace, launching two missions to orbit in less than two hours.

The doubleheader began Monday (Sept. 5) at 10:24 p.m. EDT (0224 GMT and 10:24 a.m. Beijing time on Sept. 6), when a Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwest China. 

The rocket successfully delivered to orbit two test satellites for Beijing Future Navigation Technology Co. Ltd, according to SpaceNews (opens in new tab). The spacecraft, known as CentiSpace-1-S3 and 1-S4, will vet a variety of technologies, including some designed to improve navigation capabilities.

Related: The latest news about China's space program

The second mission lifted off Tuesday (Sept. 6) at 12:19 a.m. EDT (0419 GMT; 12:19 p.m. Beijing time) from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province, in the southwestern part of the country. On that flight, a Long March 2D rocket lofted three more Yaogan-35 remote-sensing satellites, the fifth such triplet batch to reach orbit to date.

"The satellites will be mainly used to conduct scientific experiments, land resource surveys, agricultural product yield estimation and disaster prevention and reduction," Chinese broadcaster CCTV wrote in a brief mission description (opens in new tab)

They may do more than that, however; Western experts think the Yaogan-35 network is likely conducting reconnaissance for the Chinese military, as SpaceNews noted.

Monday night's launch was the 17th overall for the Kuaizhou-1A, which is operated by the state-owned company Expace. Tuesday morning's liftoff was the 436th to date for China's venerable and diverse Long March family, CCTV wrote in its description.

China has now launched 37 orbital missions so far in 2022, according to SpaceNews. That's a lot, but it falls a bit short of SpaceX's pace. Elon Musk's company has 40 missions under its belt this year, 26 of which have sent big batches of SpaceX's Starlink internet satellites to orbit.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There (opens in new tab)" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or on Facebook (opens in new tab).  

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com (opens in new tab) and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.