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China has launched three satellites to probe the Earth and test new technologies, but no one knows exactly what they will do in orbit.

Published: 2023-01-18

China's Long March 2D rocket lifted off from the Gobi desert last week, carrying three secret satellites into orbit. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), which built both the rocket and the satellites, announced that they had successfully entered orbit an hour after launch.

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We are talking about satellites Yaogan 37 and Shiyan 22A, as well as 22B. The Yaogan 37 is supposed to expand China's Earth remote sensing capabilities, while the Shiyan series is supposedly linked to testing new and untested monitoring technologies.

According to Chinese media, Yaogan-37 "will be mainly used for [in-orbit testing] new technologies like space environmental monitoring", Shiyan-22A - "mainly for land surveying, urban planning and disaster prevention and mitigation ". Shiyan-22B - "for detecting smog, monitoring water pollution, monitoring crop yields, accounting for land resources and for other purposes."

However, usually the Yaogan and Shiyan series of satellites are classified as secret projects and what they will actually do is not known for certain. The US military reported that the satellites are moving in approximately circular orbits at an altitude of about 515 km, with tilt angles of 43 degrees.

It was already China's fourth space launch in 2023, and in early January, CASC announced that it plans to launch more than 50 orbital missions this year.