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China launches hi-res Gaofen-9 Earth observation satellite

China on Monday quietly launched the Gaofen-9 high-resolution Earth observation satellite on a Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan satellite launch centre in the Gobi desert.

The launch went ahead at 12:42 Beijing time (04:42 UTC) with the only warning coming from a prior airspace notification. The successful launch was confirmed by state-run CCTV.

Gaofen-9 is the fourth to be launched from what is expected to be eight or nine satellites forming the China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS).

Chinese state media report it will be used to provide sub-meter resolution optical images for use in land surveying, urban planning, land ownership, road network design, estimating crop yields, as well as disaster preparedness and reduction.

China High-resolution Earth Observation System

Gaofen-1 was the first in the series, and delivered a number of incredible hi-res, false colour images of land features in China. It was also involved in locating ‘dozens of illegal cross-border paths’ and the curious case of detecting the country’s largest-ever discovered marijuana plantation – which subsequently ‘disappeared’.

This was followed by the previous satellite, Gaofen-2, which launched on August 19, 2014. With a spatial resolution of 1 metre – the highest of the series – Gaofen-2 returned the stunning images below.

According to the China National Space Administration (CNSA), CHEOS is a planned advanced earth observation system with high spatial, spectral and radiometric resolution with the satellites placed in various orbits.

Approved in 2010, CHEOS plans to provide real-time, all-day global earth observation in any weather and is expected to be completed by 2020. The constellation may also be utilised in Chinese president Xi Jinping’s ‘One belt one road’ regional development project.

China’s 6th launch in 2015

The launch was China’s sixth for the year, following missions sending three Beidou global positioning satellites, Gaofen-8, Yaogan Weixing-27, and on Saturday the classified satellite ‘Communication Engineering Test Satellite One’ into orbit.

On September 19, China will launch the first of a new generation of rocket, the Long March 6, which uses new engines fuelled by relatively clean kerosene and liquid oxygen propellant, and will eventually replace the current launch vehicles which run on highly toxic hydrazine.

Next year the new heavy-lift Long March 5 and medium-lift Long March 7 rockets, designed to launch and service China’s future space station and perform lunar sample return missions, will make their debut launches.

Today’s launch was the 209th in the Long March series. The first, in April 1970, put China’s first satellite – Dong Fang Hong-1 – into orbit.

In an intense period of activity, China is expected to attempt around ten more launches before the end of 2015.