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June 3rd, 2018

China's Launch of Gaofen-6 Earth Observation Satellite Kept Quiet

China on Saturday successfully launched the Gaofen-6 Earth observation satellite and the Luojia-1 CubeSat from Jiuquan, marking the country's 16th successful space launch of 2018.

A Long March 2D carries Gaofen-6 remote sensing satellite and the Luojia-1 CubeSat into a Sun-synchronous orbit from Jiuquan on June 2, 2018. CNS

The Long March 2D launch vehicle lifted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gobi Desert at 12:13 local time (04:13), with only hints that an orbital launch was being readied. 

The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the main space program contractor, confirmed success of the launch less than half an hour after liftoff. 

Gaofen-6 is the latest of a series of China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS) satellites, consisting of multi-spectrum imaging and synthetic aperture radar satellites.

With a mass of 1,064 kg and with a designed life of eight years, Gaofen-6 is similar to the Gaofen-1 satellite launched in 2013, but with upgraded capabilities. 

Equipped with 2 meter resolution panchromatic camera, an 8 m multi-spectral imager and a 16m multi-spectral wide-angle color camera, Gaofen-6 can observe chlorophyll and other nutritional content of crops, and help to estimate yields of crops such as corn, rice, soybeans, cotton and peanuts, Tong Xudong, chief engineer of the Gaofen series satellites, told state media.

The satellite was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), a subordinate to CASC, and is based on the CAST2000 satellite bus.

Last month China launched the Gaofen-5 hyperspectral satellite, which followed a trio of smaller Gaofen-1 imaging satellites orbited in late March. 

A scientific experiment 6U CubeSat developed by Wuhan University and named Luojia-1 was also aboard the Long March 2D launch, carrying a nighttime remote sensing camera developed by Changguang Satellite Technology Co. Ltd., which develops the commercial Jilin series of remote sensing satellites.

Saturday's launch was the 276th mission for the Long March rocket families, with an overall success rate of 94,9 percent.

The next launch will be of the Fengyun-2H weather satellite, which is to take place on June 5 from Xichang at around 13:10 UTC (21:10 Beijing time, 09:10 EDT), according to airspace closure notices consistent with the launch profile.

The previous mission, on May 20, was the launch of the Queqiao Chang'e-4 relay satellite and two lunar pathfinder microsatellites; a precursor to an unprecedented attempt at soft-landing on the far side of the Moon in late 2018. 

Queqiao is currently establishing a halo orbit around the second Earth-Moon Lagrange point from which it will facilitate communications for the mission.

2018 matches 2017 in June

China is aiming to launch around 40 times in 2018, including government, international and commercial missions, which would be nearly double the national record of 22 launches set in 2016.

With 16 launches this year so far, China is already close to surpassing the total 18 launches (16 successes, 1 partial failure, 1 failure) carried out in 2017, and has just as many successful launches.

June could further possibly see the launch of two Beidou GNSS navigation satellites, also from Xichang, as well as a pair of remote sensing satellites for Pakistan, lifting off from Taiyuan, North China.

Major missions for 2018 will be the return-to-flight of the Long March 5heavy-lift rocket from Wenchang, as well as the Chang'e-4 lunar landing and roving mission to the far side of the Moon.

Story by Andrew Jones of GBTimes