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China launches new set of Yaogan Earth reconnaissance satellites

A Chinese Long March 2D rocket carrying the Yaogan 35 A, B and C Earth reconnaissance satellites lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China on Nov. 5, 2021.
A Chinese Long March 2D rocket carrying the Yaogan 35 A, B and C Earth reconnaissance satellites lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China on Nov. 5, 2021. (Image credit: CASC)

China launched the first set of three satellites for a new series of classified Yaogan reconnaissance satellites on Saturday (Nov. 5), continuing the country's rapid rate of orbital missions.

A Long March 2D lifted off at 10:00 p.m. EST (0300 GMT, 11:00 a.m. local Time), rising into blue skies over the wooded hills surrounding the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China.

Chinese state media described the Yaogan 35 A, B and C satellites as to be used for scientific experiments, land and resources surveys, agricultural production estimates and disaster prevention and mitigation.

Related: The latest news about China's space program

The Long March 2D carrying Yaogan 35 A, B and C satellites on the pad at Xichang (Image credit: CASC)

It is believed that Yaogan satellites are for military purposes, similar to how Russia and the U.S. use "Kosmos" and "USA" designations respectively for military satellites, as NASASpaceFlight notes.

The satellites are now orbiting at roughly 310 miles (500 kilometers) above the Earth, with an inclination of 35 degrees, similar to many earlier Yaogan series satellites, but at a lower altitude.

Unusually, the orbiting Yaogan trio were developed by separate groups. The A and B satellites were developed by the Aerospace Dongfanghong Satellite Co., Ltd. under the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), while the "C" satellite was developed by the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology (CAST).

Both CAST and SAST belong to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), China’s main, state-owned space contractor. 

The flight was China’s 43rd orbital launch of 2021, further extending a new national record for launches in a calendar year set in October.

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Andrew Jones covers China's space industry for SpaceNews. He is based in Helsinki, Finland.