China launches new mystery Shiyan satellite (video)

China launched the latest in its secretive Shiyan satellite series over the weekend.

A Long March 4C rocket lifted off from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert, northwest China, at 7:43 p.m.EDT on May 11 (2343 GMT, or 7:43 a.m. Beijing time on May 12). Chinese authorities revealed the mission payload to be Shiyan-23 once launch was declared to be successful.

Chinese authorities provided no images of the satellite. The only description of the spacecraft states that Shiyan-23 will be used for space environment monitoring.

Related: China launches mysterious Shiyan-20C satellite to orbit (video)

A Long March 4C rocket lifts off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in China's Gobi Desert on May 11, 2024. (Image credit: CCTV+)

This vague description is fairly standard for the classified Shiyan satellite series, whose name translates as "experiment." The satellites likely perform a variety of tasks, operate in diverse orbits and test a range of new technologies. 

China has launched at least 36 Shiyan satellites in the last two decades. At least one of them has surprised observers by executing "conducting unusual satellite maneuvers," according to SpacePolicyOnline.

This mission was the 522nd flight of China's Long March series of launch vehicles. The country aims to launch around 100 missions this year.

Its Chang'e-6 lunar sample return mission — launched earlier this month —is currently in orbit around the moon preparing for a landing attempt in the coming weeks. If successful, it will be the world's first mission to return samples from the moon's far side.

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Andrew Jones
Contributing Writer

Andrew is a freelance space journalist with a focus on reporting on China's rapidly growing space sector. He began writing for in 2019 and writes for SpaceNews, IEEE Spectrum, National Geographic, Sky & Telescope, New Scientist and others. Andrew first caught the space bug when, as a youngster, he saw Voyager images of other worlds in our solar system for the first time. Away from space, Andrew enjoys trail running in the forests of Finland. You can follow him on Twitter @AJ_FI.