Featured image credit: Xinhua
Lift Off Time
|February 24, 2021 – 02:22 UTC | 10:22 BJT|
|Yaogan-31-03, three Chinese reconnaissance satellites|
|China Aerospace Science Corporation (CASC)|
|Chinese Ministry of National Defense|
|Long March 4C|
|Site 9401, SLS-2, Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, China|
|Unknown, a maximum of 4,200 kg (9,300 lbs) based on orbital parameters|
Where did the satellites go?
|1,100 km low-Earth orbit (LEO), ~63.4°|
Did they attempt to recover the first stage?
|No, this is not a capability of the CASC|
Where did the first stage land?
|It crashed on land in North-West China|
Did they be attempt to recover the fairings?
|No, this is not a capability of CASC|
Were the fairings new?
This was the:
|– 31st launch of a Long March 4C|
– 5th Chinese launch of 2021
– 14th successful orbital launch of 2021
Where to watch
How did it go?
The China Aerospace Science Corporation successfully launched 3 Yaogan-31-03 reconnaissance satellites into a 1,100 km low-Earth orbit. The trio of satellites launched on the Long March 4C rocket, from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, in China.
As with most Chinese spy satellites, very few specifics of the actual satellites are known. However, the Chinese government has released some information about the Yaogan constellation. Currently, there are 70 Yaogan satellites in a variety of orbits, ranging from 35° to 100° and orbital altitudes from 480 km circular orbits to 1,200 km eccentric orbits. The Yaogan-31-03 mission was a follow up to the Yaogan-31-01 and Yaogan-31-02 missions, which launched on April 10, 2018 and January 29, 2021, respectively.
The Yaogan constellation is a Chinese reconnaissance constellation. According to Chinese media, the satellites are used for scientific experimentation, surveying land, assessing crop yields, and monitoring disasters; the trio of satellites being launched on the Yaogan-31-3 mission will primarily be used for tracking and monitoring fishing vessels. However, the satellites are likely also used for spying and other reconnaissance purposes.
While in the same constellation, not all Yaogan satellites use the same instrumentation. Some of the Yaogan satellites are equipped with a synthetic-aperture radar (SAR). SAR uses the motion of the radar to create a 2D image, or a 3D reconstruction, with a higher resolution than if the sensor was stationary. It is unknown if Yaogan-31-03 satellites use SAR, or if they will use other technology that is classified.
Long March 4C
The Long March 4C is a 3 stage medium-lift launch vehicle derived from China’s Long March 4B vehicle. It is able to put up to 4,200 kg into low-Earth orbit, and up to 1,500 kg into geostationary transfer obit (GTO).
The first stage has 4 open cycle YF-21C engines. Each engine runs on dinitrogen tetroxide (N2O4) and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH), producing 740 kN of thrust each, with a specific impulse (ISP) of 260 seconds. Overall, the first stage produces 2,960 kN of thrust and carries 182,000 kg of propellent. The first stage is 27.91 meters tall, and 3.35 meters in diameter.
The second stage runs on a single YF-24C engine, which contains 1 main YF-22C engine for thrust, and 4 YF-23C attitude control thrusters. The main engine produces 742 kN of thrust and the attitude control thrusters each produce 47 kN, and both run on N2O4 and UDMH. The main engine’s ISP is 300 seconds, and the attitude control thrusters have an ISP of 289 seconds. The second stage is 10.9 meters tall, 3.35 meters in diameter, and carries 52,700 kg of propellent.
The third stage has two open cycle YF-40A engines that also run on N2O4 and UDMH. Each engine produces just over 100 kN of thrust and has an ISP of 303 seconds. The third stage is 14.8 meters tall and 2.9 meters wide.