China launches 2 rockets in 2 days, lofting 4 satellites to orbit

While NASA and SpaceX were busy supporting the historic Demo-2 mission from Florida last weekend — the first crewed orbital flight from the U.S. in nearly a decade — the Chinese were making space strides of their own.

China once again picked up the pace of its launches with two successful rocket flights back to back, around the same time that Demo-2 blasted off toward the International Space Station on May 30.

China first launched two new technology-demonstrating satellites at 4:13 a.m. Beijing time on May 30 (4:13 p.m. EDT, or 2013 GMT, on May 29). 

Related: Latest news about China's space program

A Chinese Long March 2D rocket launches the Gaofen-9 satellite to Earth orbit on May 31, 2020.  (Image credit: CCTV)

The satellites soared successfully into space aboard a Long March-11 rocket, which launched from southwest China, according to Chinese state media outlet CCTV.

"Peng Kunya, a chief designer of the Long March-11, said that it was the first time that the Long March-11 was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, proving its adaptability to different launch sites," CCTV said in its report.

Barely 36 hours later, China sent another satellite duo aloft from the country's northwest region. A Long March-2D rocket blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center on May 31 at 4:53 p.m. Beijing time (4:53 a.m. EDT or 0853 GMT).

One of the satellites on the Jiuquan launch was Gaofen-9. The civilian remote-sensing satellite can take photographs with a resolution of roughly 3.3 feet (1 meter), said state-sponsored media outlet Xinhua. "It will be used in land surveys, urban planning, road network design and crop yield estimates, as well as disaster relief," Xinhua stated.

Beijing-based HEAD Aerospace Technology Co. Ltd. created the other satellite, called HEAD-4. The satellite is designed to support the Internet of Things (IoT), which allows connected devices to send and receive information from orbit. HEAD-4's IoT service will also be used on ships and aircraft, Xinhua reported.

China was on a tear for much of late 2019, sometimes launching rockets mere hours apart at different space centers. The pace of spaceflight slowed in early 2020 when the novel coronavirus pandemic emerged.

Since February, however, China resumed some spaceflight activities with physical distancing protocols. Earlier in May, China launched two other satellites to support IoT services.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: