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Chinese, Polish satellites launched by Long March

Posted: August 20, 2014

A Chinese Earth-observing spacecraft and a Polish astronomical satellite launched into a nearly 400-mile-high orbit Tuesday aboard a Long March 4B rocket.

Credit: Xinhua
The 15-story Long March 4B rocket took off at 0315 GMT Tuesday (11:15 p.m. EDT Monday) from the Taiyuan space center in northern China's Shanxi province, where it was 11:15 a.m. local time.

After a 13-minute ascent into orbit, the three-stage rocket deployed the Gaofen 2 spacecraft, a civilian remote sensing satellite launched to help Chinese officials respond to disasters, survey natural resources, plot urban growth and support national security applications, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Xinhua described Gaofen 2 as China's most advanced Earth observation satellite. While experts believe Chinese intelligence satellites likely have superior resolution, Gaofen 2 is the most capable Earth observation satellite acknowledged by Chinese authorities.

The state-run media agency reported Gaofen 2 "is able to see a one-meter-long (3.3-foot-long) object from space in full color."

U.S. military tracking data show the spacecraft is circling Earth in a near-circular orbit about 385 miles up with an inclination of 98 degrees.

"It will be used for geographic and resources surveillance, environment and climate change monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster relief and city planning," Xinhua reported.

Users of imagery from the Gaofen 2 satellite will include the Chinese Ministry of Land and Resources, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the Ministry of Transport, and the State Forestry Administration, according to Xinhua.

The spacecraft launched Tuesday is the second of seven Gaofen satellites scheduled for liftoff by 2020. The first satellite, Gaofen 1, launched in April 2013 and helped assist China's search for the missing Malaysian airliner MH370.

The rocket also released a small co-passenger named BRITE-PL 2. Built in Poland, the satellite weighs about 15 pounds and will measure the variability of the brightest stars in the sky.

The launch marked the return to flight for the Long March 4B rocket, a model of China's workhorse Long March rocket family that last flew in December 2013, when it failed to place into orbit a $250 million Earth observation satellite developed by China and Brazil.

Investigators blamed the mishap on debris that disrupted the flow of propellant to one of the rocket's third stage engines.

Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.