A Long March 2C launching a previous Yaogan mission in 2018

Yaogan-30-06 | Long March 2C

Lift Off Time
(Subject to change)
March 24, 2020 03:40:00 UTC  | 11:40:00 CST
Mission Name and what it is
Launch Provider
(What rocket company is launching it?)
China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC)
(Who’s paying for this?)
Chinese Government
Long March 2C
Launch Location
Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC), Sichuan Province, People’s Republic of China
Payload mass
Unknown (the Chinese Government does not disclose this) but no more than 2,800 kg (6,200 lb)
Where are the satellites going?
Low-Earth Orbit (but unknown altitude)
Will they be attempting to recover the first stage?
No – Long March rockets don’t have this capability
Where will the first stage land?
It will crash back into the ground – somewhere over China
Will they be attempting to recover the fairings?
Are these fairings new?
This will be the:
  • 52nd flight of a Long March 2C rocket,
  • 6th launch for CASC in 2020
Where to watch
China does not live-stream their launches at present

What’s all this mean?

China is launching the Yaogan-30-o6 reconnaissance satellite into low-Earth orbit (LEO) on March 24, 2020. Its launch vehicle is the Long March 2C (LM-2C) rocket. Yaogan (literally meaning “remote sensing satellite”) is a family of satellites in various orbits, conducting a mixture of optical, synthetic-aperture radar, and other unknown (but probably electronic intelligence gathering) sensing.

The Long March 2C rocket

The LM-2C–or Chang Zheng 2C (CZ-2C) in pinyin Chinese–launch vehicle is 40.4 m (132 ft) in length, has a 2.6 m (8.5 ft) or 3.35 m (11 ft) fairing, and can launch 2,800 kg (6,200 lb) to LEO.

All Long March 2 variants use liquid fuel on each of their core stages and upper stages. For fuel, they use hypergolic Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine (UDMH), and for oxidizer they use nitrogen tetroxide (NTO) on all main stages.

Core booster and second stage

On a typical launch profile for the LM-2C, the core booster propels the payload and upper stage to an altitude of 47 km (29 miles) before first stage shutdown. The upper stage takes over shortly after stage separation. The next major milestone is payload fairing separation at 117 km (73 miles) altitude. By this time, the vehicle is 352 km (219 miles) down range.

Optional third stage

The LM-2C can make use of an optional third stage, which is only 1.5 m (4.9 ft) long and 2.7 m (8.9 ft) wide (This seems crazy, but by the time it is used, it will be well outside the atmosphere). This third stage, if it is used as part of the mission, uses the hypergolic propellent Hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene or HTPB for short (I now understand that this is pronounced poly-bute-ah-dye-een; thank you Internet).

Launch locations

At time of lift-off, the Long March 2C is reported to have a lift-off mass of 213 metric tonnes, and a lift-off thrust of 2962 kN. Additionally, it is capable of being launched from no less than three different launch centers in China! These are Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (in Gansu Province, North central China), Xichang Satellite Launch Center (in Sichuan Province, South central China), and Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center (in Shanxi Province, North East China).

This particular launch is taking place from Xichang Satellite Launch Center. After take-off, the booster will fall back over land, potentially landing close to villages with people living there. China appears to be the only country that considers this to be acceptable, rather than launch over the ocean. However, at least a restricted area for aircraft (known as a “note to airmen” or NOTAM) has been issued for both the launch area and expected crash landing area for the booster.

But, what about the Yaogan payload?

Firstly, we were not able to find any pre-launch information about this specific payload, but we can tell you about the range of pre-existing Yaogan satellites. At the time of publishing this article, there have been 36 launches of Yaogan payloads, sending a total of 57 satellites into space. These launches have typically taken place from the Taiyuan and Jiuquan launch sites, with only 4 launches from Xichang starting in 2017.

Yaogan constellation

The first Yaogan launch (Yaogan-1, also known as JB-5-1) dates from April 27, 2006. This satellite is thought to have broken up nearly four years later due to some sort of internal explosion.

Yaogan satellites tend to be placed in orbital ranges of around 480 – 670 km, or 1050 – 1220 km. They have been launched from a mixture of Long March 2C, 2D, 4B, and 4C rockets.

Sensing instruments

Some of the Yaogan satellites use optical sensors, while others feature synthetic-aperture radar (SAR) instruments. Others have undisclosed equipment, most likely electronic intelligence gathering devices.

So, synthetic-aperture radar is a special type of radar that makes use of the motion of the instrument over the terrain being measured, to create the effect of having a much larger diameter radio dish and therefore increased resolution. It is a technology derived from side-looking airborne radar.

Radar itself is a word constructed from the acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging. This technology, now used throughout the world for aircraft and shipping, was invented in the United Kingdom by Robert Watson Watt in the 1920s, but the name we use today was coined by the US Navy, since several countries were all developing the technology independently and in strict secrecy!

Now, we may find out which type of instrumentation is onboard Yaogan-30-06 sometime after the launch, so please come back and check for updates!

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