China surprisingly launched Gaofen-8 on Long March 4B

On June 26, 2015, the Chinese conducted successful launch of Long March 4B launch vehicle reportedly with Gaofen-8 Earth observation satellite into a sun-synchronous orbit from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center.

Launch of Long March 4B with Gaofen-8 satellite. Credit: Xinchua
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The launch had no official announcement and less than 24 hours advance notice for air-route closures. Satellite designation, despite it was identified as Gaofen-8 by official Chinese media, is somewhat puzzling since it is out of sequence within the Gaofen constellation of satellites and its orbit is not in-line with the two previously launched Gaofen spacecraft, Spaceflight101 informs.

Moreover, NASA Spaceflight adds, China announced plans to launch Gaofen-1 to Gaofen-7 spacecraft, and there was no news about an 8th Gaofen bird. By now, only Gaofen-1 and Gaofen-2 spacecraft were launched in 2013 and 2014, correspondingly, with further 3 Gaofen series satellite launches planned until 2016.

There is not so much information about Gaofen-8 satellite. It is supposed to be an optical satellite with high-resolution imaging payload. Reportedly, the duties of the satellite are country surveying, disaster response, agriculture mapping, city planning, land ownership marking and road network planning. Presumably it will complement civilian China High-resolution Earth Observation System (CHEOS).

Gaofen-1 satellite in an assembly, integration and testing facility. Credit: CAST
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Gaofen-1 satellite, launched on April 26, 2013, by a Long March 2D rocket from Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, based on CAST-2000 bus made by China SpaceSat Co. It weighs near 1 ton and has 5-8 years of life expectancy. Gaofen-2, spacecraft employing CS-L3000A platform, was launched on August 19, 2014, on a Long March-4B vehicle from Taiyuan.

In a typical pattern for China, Gaofen-8 mission was only the second in 2015, after successful launch of Long March 3C vehicle with a BeiDou Navigation System satellite, conducted on March 30. Previous years also marked by a slow launch rate in the first half-year, prior to launches almost on a weekly basis in the closing months of the year.

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