Analysts believe China deployed a mystery surveillance satellite that will "monitor land, crop yield, and natural disasters" but might also gather military data. The Yaogan 33 (02) satellite launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert at 7:44 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2 (2344 GMT, or 7:44 a.m. Beijing time on Sept. 3) in what was East Asia's 35th successful launch this year.
The rocket exploded into the sky, leaving behind colorful exhaust patterns and plumes of dust and orange-brown smoke billowing around the launch tower. The United States Space Force detected two new objects in orbit linked with the Jiuquan launch: a new satellite in a 428 by 423 mile (688 by 680 kilometers) near-polar orbit and the upper stage of the Long March 4C in an orbit with a lower perigee, or closest approach to Earth, of 306 miles (492 km).
Yaogan 33, a new, classified series of remote sensing satellites, is little recognized. The spacecraft will be used for "science experiments, census of national land resources, crop yield estimation, and disaster prevention." according to Chinese state-controlled media (opens in new tab). According to Western space researchers, the Yaogan series satellites serve both civil and military customers in China. China launched a new batch of Yaogan 35 satellites last month, which might be used for Earth observation or signal intelligence gathering.
According to Nasaspaceflight, the preceding satellite in the 33 series, Yaogan 33 (01), which launched in late 2020, was most likely a space-based synthetic aperture radar (SAR) system capable of imaging through clouds and at night. The orbits of the Yaogan 33 (01) and (02) are now comparable.
In 2019, an effort to launch what may have been the first Yaogan 33 series satellite failed. So far in 2022, China has undertaken 35 launches, with the country's major space contractor, CASC, intending to launch more than 50 times this year. As of September 5, the United States had launched 50 times.