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China launches 3 satellites into orbit, including a 'lobster-eye' to hunt dark matter

China launched a trio of satellites into orbit Saturday (July 25) on separate missions to study the Earth, hunt dark matter with an X-ray "lobster-eye" and collect commercial data.

A Long March 4B rocket successfully launched the Ziyuan III 03 Earth-observation satellite and two other payloads from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern province of Shanxi. Liftoff occurred at 11:14 a.m. Beijing Time.

Video of the launch showed debris raining from the rocket during liftoff, but the event (in which insulation tiles fall from the booster) is normal occurrence. Social media images also showed some debris from the rocket that had fallen in the Yunyang district of Shiyan city, Hubei, according to space reporter Andrew Jones. 

Ziyuan III 03, the primary payload for the mission, is a high-resolution Earth-mapping satellite designed to capture 3-D images and multispectral observations, according to a CCTV report. 

Related: Latest news about China's space program

A Chinese Long March 4B rocket lifts off from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the province of Shanxi . The rocket carried the Ziyuan III 03 Earth-mapping satellite and two other satellites to hunt dark matter and collect data. (Image credit: CASC)

The rocket also carried two other small satellites developed by Shanghai ASES Spaceflight Technology Co. Ltd., one to search for dark matter and another built for "commercial data acquisition," according to CCTV. 

In a translated statement, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) said one of the satellites is an X-ray astronomy craft that features "lobster-eye bionic technology" to hunt dark matter. According to SpaceNews, the satellite is called NJU-HKU No.1 and is an experiment by Hong Kong University and Nanjing University to seek out dark matter signals

CASC officials said the third satellite is the latest addition to the "Apocalypse" constellation to test key technologies for a space-based Internet of Things. The Apocalypse constellation is a project of the Beijing Guodian Gaoke Technology Co. Ltd., SpaceNews reported

Saturday's launched followed closely on the heels of China's landmark Tianwen-1 mission, which launched the country's first Mars rover toward the Red Planet on July 24. That mission, which lifted off on a Long March 5 rocket from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center on Hainan Island, will arrive at Mars in February 2021.

A Chinese Long March 4B rocket lifts off from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the province of Shanxi . The rocket carried the Ziyuan III 03 Earth-mapping satellite and two other satellites to hunt dark matter and collect data. (Image credit: China Central Television (CCTV))

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