China just launched two missions less than 40 hours apart, sending three satellites to Earth orbit.
The action began on Saturday (Sept. 24) at 6:55 p.m. EDT (2255 GMT; 6:55 a.m. Beijing time on Sept. 25), when a Kuaizhou-1A solid rocket carrying the Shiyan-14 and Shiyan-15 spacecraft lifted off from northern China's Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.
The 65-foot-tall (20 meters) Kuaizhou-1A successfully delivered the satellite pair to orbit, where they will perform a variety of work, according to Chinese media reports.
"The Shiyan-14 will mainly be used to conduct scientific experiments and verify new technologies, while the Shiyan-15 will provide data in the fields of land survey, urban planning and disaster prevention and mitigation," the state-run media outlet Xinhua reported on Sunday (opens in new tab) (Sept. 25).
The launch was the 18th overall for the Kuaizhou-1A, which is operated by the Chinese company ExPace. That doesn't mean the Kuaizhou-1A is a private rocket, however — not in the Western sense, anyway. ExPace is a subsidiary of the huge, state-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation.
The second of the two launches occurred today (Sept. 26) at 9:38 a.m. EDT (1338 GMT; 9:38 p.m. Beijing time) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, in southwestern China's Sichuan province. A Long March 2D rocket successfully carried the Yaogan 36 remote-sensing satellite to orbit, Xinhua reported (opens in new tab).
Xinhua provided no details about the satellite, but we can probably assume it's a spy satellite of some kind. Western experts believe that the Yaogan satellites — and there are many, as China has also launched multiple sets of Yaogan 35 triplets to orbit this year so far — gather data and imagery for both civilian and military uses.
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).