Watch China launch more classified Yaogan spy satellites (video)

China added a trio of new satellites to its clusters of Yaogan orbital reconnaissance spacecraft last week.

A Long March 2D rocket lifted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 8:24 p.m. EDT on Oct. 4 (or 1224 GMT; 8:24 a.m. Beijing Time on Oct. 5). The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) confirmed launch success within an hour of liftoff.

As with the later launches, neither CASC nor Chinese state media provided many details of the spacecraft, describing them only as remote sensing satellites. Chinese state media reports noted only that a "Yaogan 39 satellite" was aboard the rocket.

Related: China launches mysterious new spy satellite 

A Long March 2D lifts off from Xichang spaceport on Oct. 5, 2023, carrying three Yaogan 39 classified satellites. (Image credit: Ourspace)

However, U.S. Space Force space domain awareness reveals that three satellites were sent into orbit. This is thus a third batch of three satellites in the Yaogan 39 series, following launches on Aug. 31 and Sept. 17

Yaogan satellites are, in general, classified Chinese remote sensing satellites considered by Western observers to be for military purposes. They include optical, radar and electronic intelligence gathering satellites.

The new group joins the earlier-launched satellites in roughly circular orbits with an altitude of 307 miles (495 kilometers) orbits and inclined by 35 degrees. 

The different groups will pass over the same points above Earth at different times, providing more frequent coverage over areas of interest.

The mission was China's 46th orbital launch of the year. State-owned CASC said in January that it wants to launch more than 200 spacecraft across 2023. China also has an active commercial launch sector adding to this activity. 

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at:

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.