Just as suspected yesterday, China launched their new remote sensing satellite today at 02:43 GMT.
According to Xinhua news agency, launch was performed from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center located in Northwestern part of Gobi desert at 10:43 local time (02:43 GMT). Satellite was launched on atop of Long March 2D, rocket used regularly for lifting to orbit reconnaissance and observation satellites from Jiuquan Space Center. Previously Chinese sources were informing that satellite has double name: Gaofen-4 and Yaogan-30. Now it was officially confirmed that satellite is Yaogan-30. It comes along with previous news from the beginning of 2016 that next Gaofen (Gaofen-5) satellite is in fact scheduled for 2016 but with no specified data. Yaogan-30, according to Xinhua, satellite is intended for purely civilian purposes:
“The satellite will be used for experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief experiments, land surveys, crop yield estimates and disaster relief”
It is official information, which usually appears in case of remote sensing and imaging satellites even if they are strictly military reconnaissance spacecrafts; it is very hard to distinguish which Chinese satellite will be used really for helping in city planning or monitoring growth of crops and which is tracking American warships. To predict its real objective we can only base on following assumptions.
Launch was confirmed by USSTRATCOM which gave satellite following number: 2016-029A/41473. Thanks to the USSTRATCOM we have had known what orbit was reached by Yaogan-30; it is 690 km x 704 km with inclination at 98.23°. According to latest data from NORAD satellite remains on orbit with perigee of 626 km, apogee of 655 km and inclination at 98.07°. Its orbit gives ability of fly over Indian Ocean, Canada, Alaska and central regions of USA, Argentina, Antarctica, South Ocean, Thailand and western China, Japan and Eastern Siberia including passing about 355 km from Vostochny cosmodrome. This orbit is close to orbit parameters of Yaogan-2 imaging satellite launched on May 25, 2007. It gives arguments to assume that Yaogan-30 is reconnaissance SAR satellite to cover with its range area observed by imaging Yaogan-2 satellite (and its possible replacement satellite Yaogan-24 launched on November 20, 2014). According to western specialists Yaogan satellites are belonging to ELINT constellation which covers both SAR and imaging satellites. SAR spacecrafts belonging to ELINT constellation are able to cover with range of their radars up to 3500 km and are designated for tracking groups of aircraft carriers. It is quite logical – combination of SAR and imaging satellites which are covering areas far from Chinese coast line will give ability to react before aircraft carriers will reach positions suitable for any military action against China. It will also increase precision during locating warships and help in potential effective preemptive attack with Yuan class submarines equipped in silent propulsion called Air Independent Propulsion Submarine (AIPS). Officially parameters or payload of Yaogan-30 are still mystery but it is possible that this satellite will operate as reconnaissance satellite – its orbit parameters are best proof for that.