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Chinese rocket launches with top secret spy satellite

Posted: December 9, 2009

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A Chinese remote sensing mission, believed to be a military reconnaissance satellite, lifted off from a desert launch pad on a Long March rocket on Wednesday, state media reported.

The Long March 2D rocket blasted off at 0842 GMT (3:42 a.m. EST), or during the afternoon at the Jiuquan launching base near the border of northern China's Inner Mongolia and Gansu provinces.

The 135-foot-tall booster's two stages, fueled by hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide, guided the Yaogan 7 payload into a sun-synchronous orbit about 400 miles high, according to public tracking data.

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported the satellite will be used for scientific experiments, land resources surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster response applications.

But the craft is likely an electro-optical spy satellite to be operated by the Chinese military. Observers believe the Yaogan series, which began launching in 2006, is a new fleet of high-resolution optical and radar reconaissance satellites. The new satellite would be the third Yaogan spacecraft fitted with an optical imager.

Yaogan 7 was built by the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., according to Xinhua.

Wednesday's launch was announced less than a day in advance, typical publicity for Chinese military launches.

The flight was the fifth launch of a Chinese Long March rocket this year, and the 69th space launch to reach orbit worldwide in 2009.