China launched a Long March 2D rocket Monday with another classified satellite and deployed the spacecraft in a polar orbit on the first of more than 40 Chinese Long March rocket missions planned for 2022.
The Long March 2D rocket took off, according to the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. or CASC at 0435 GMT Sunday (11:35 p.m. EST Sunday) from the Taiyuan launch base in north China’s Shanxi Province.
The launch took place at 10:35 a.m. Beijing time on Monday.
CASC, China’s largest state-owned space industry contractor, said the Long March 2D rocket launched the Shiyan 13 satellite. Chinese officials gave no details about the mission’s purpose, other than claiming that Shiyan 13 will be used for space environment data collection and technology testing.
China’s series of Shiyan satellites, launched in 2004, have been used for technology demonstrations and experiments. Many of the previous Shiyan missions probably had a military purpose.
The 41-meter-tall Long March 2D rocket that launched Shiyan 13 lifted off with more than 650,000 pounds of thrust from its hydrazine-fueled first stage engines. En route from Taiyuan south across Chinese territory, the two-stage launch vehicle climbed through the atmosphere and accelerated to a speed of nearly 5 miles (8 kilometers) per second.
The US military, which publishes orbit data online, said it tracked the Shiyan 13 satellite in an orbit between 287 miles and 309 miles (463 by 498 kilometers) at an inclination of 97.4 degrees to the equator.
Chinese officials declared the launch a success, and US military tracking data confirmed the mission had reached orbit.
CASC said in a statement that the launch was the first of more than 40 missions the organization plans to conduct this year. CASC builds and oversees the Long March rocket family, China’s most-flown launch vehicle.
More than 15 of the launches will use the Long March 2D rocket configuration, according to CASC. The Long March 2D is designed to launch payloads weighing up to 2,900 pounds (about 1.3 tons) into polar, sun-synchronous orbit.
Conducting 15 or more Long March 2D launches this year would set an annual record for this rocket type.
Other major Chinese space missions scheduled to launch in 2022 include six Long March rocket flights to build and outfit China’s space station.
The station’s Tianhe core module was launched last April on a Long March 5B heavy-lift rocket. China launched a Long March 7 rocket with a cargo ship from Tianzhou in May to dock at the Tianhe module and deliver supplies for the first three astronauts who launched to the station in June.
This crew returned to Earth in September, the same month that China launched another cargo mission in Tianzhou.
Three more astronauts on China’s Shenzhou 13 spacecraft launched and docked with the station’s Tianhe core module in October to begin a six-month stay, the longest manned space mission in China to date.
This year, China plans to launch two more large space station modules, each weighing more than 20 tons on launch using Long March 5B rockets from the Wenchang Space Center on Hainan Island. The Wentian and Mengtian pressure modules will add living space and scientific laboratory facilities to the Chinese space station.
Two Tianzhou Freighters carrying Long March 7 rockets and two Shenzhou Crew Ferry ships carrying Long March 2F rockets are also scheduled for launch to the Chinese space station this year.
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