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Long March Rocket Launches Chinese-Brazilian Mission and 1st Ethiopian Satellite

China successfully launched nine satellites early on Friday (Dec. 20) as the country cements its place at the top of the 2019 launch table.

The launch took place at 11:22 a.m. local time on Dec. 20 (0322 GMT, or 10:22 p.m. EST Dec. 19). The mission was delayed by three days due to unfavorable weather conditions.

The satellites were launched by a Long March 4B rocket, which uses hypergolic hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide for propellant, producing distinctively colored exhaust patterns. 

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A Chinese Long March 4B rocket lifts off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China on Dec. 20, 2019, carrying nine satellites, including the Chinese-Brazilian remote sensing satellite CBERS-4A and Ethiopia's first satellite, ETRSS-1.

A Chinese Long March 4B rocket lifts off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China on Dec. 20, 2019, carrying nine satellites, including the Chinese-Brazilian remote sensing satellite CBERS-4A and Ethiopia's first satellite, ETRSS-1. (Image credit: CCTV)

Chinese state news outlet CCTV released footage of the liftoff from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China. The video shows insulation tiles falling away as the rocket begins to climb from snow-sprinkled hills.

The main payload was the 3,810-lb. (1,730 kilograms) joint China-Brazil remote-sensing satellite CBERS-4A, which will provide medium-resolution imagery of the Amazon rainforest and other areas.

Also onboard was Ethiopia's first satellite, the 150-lb. (70 kg) ETRSS-1, a remote-sensing satellite developed with support from China. "The satellite will provide all the necessary data on changes in climate and weather-related phenomena that would be utilized for the country's key targets in agriculture, forestry, as well as natural-resources-protection initiatives," Ethiopian President Sahle-Work Zewde told the Ethiopian parliament in August. 

Ethiopia has now joined nine other African nations — South Africa, Nigeria, Rwanda, Algeria, Egypt, Angola, Morocco, Ghana and Kenya — in having a satellite in orbit.

The satellites inside the payload fairing being stacked on the rocket at Taiyuan. (Image credit: INPE)

Among the seven other satellites on the mission was Tianqin-1, a technology verification satellite for a future space-based gravitational wave detection constellation. Tianqin satellites will use inter-spacecraft laser interferometry to pick up the ripples in space-time, or gravitational waves, created by the collision of massive objects such as black holes.

The other small satellites were FloripaSat-1, a Brazilian cubesat developed by university students; two small satellites developed by China's National University of Defense Technology; and three cubesats from MinoSpace, a private Chinese small satellite maker established in 2017.

China has been the busiest space power in 2019, carrying out 33 launches this year so far. Two of the launches ended in failure, while a separate satellite, ChinaSat-18, was lost when it failed to communicate with the ground. U.S. rockets have launched 27 times this year, with no failures during launch, including Rocket Lab launches from New Zealand.

Earlier in the week, China launched a pair a Beidou navigation satellites — and more launches are expected before the year is out. The biggest mission of the year, on which many of China's major plans depend, will be the return-to-flight mission of the Long March 5 rocket, expected on Dec. 27.

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