China launched a Long March 6 carrier rocket on Tuesday to send three small Earth-observation satellites into space.
The Long March 6 blasted off at 12:50 pm at Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi province and put three Jilin 1-series satellites in orbit, according to a news release from China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp, the major contractor of China's space programs.
It was the second mission for the Long March 6, a new-generation liquid-propellant rocket, the release said. The three-stage rocket's first launch was in September 2015, when it put 20 satellites into orbit, setting a record for most satellites launched by a single Chinese rocket.
Development of the Long March 6, the first of China's new generation of carrier rockets, began in 2009 at the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology, a subsidiary of China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.
The 29.3-meter rocket can place about a metric ton of payload into a sun-synchronous orbit 700 kilometers above Earth. Its main propulsion is a 120-ton-thrust engine that burns liquid oxygen and kerosene.
Chinese engineers have produced four new types of carrier rockets－Long March 6, Long March 11, Long March 7 and Long March 5－since 2015. No other nation has put as many new rockets into service within such a short time.
The Long March 5 is the newest and one of the most powerful launch vehicles in the world. It is strong enough to launch China's manned space station, which will be assembled starting around 2019 and enter service in 2022.
With an ultimate goal of having 138 satellites in orbit by 2030, the Jilin 1 constellation is being constructed to offer clients high-definition videos and images of areas its satellites monitor. It is named after the northeastern province of Jilin, where its developer－the Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences－is located.
The three satellites launched on Tuesday have a total weight of about 625 kilograms. They will work for at least three years in a sun-synchronous orbit 535 km above Earth, the institute said.
Eight Jilin 1 satellites have been put into operation. The first four were launched in October 2015 from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Northwest China and the fifth was launched in January at the same facility.
Once the constellation becomes fully operational, it will service a wide range of civilian and business fields such as land resources monitoring, mineral exploitation, geographical mapping, agricultural estimation, environmental inspection, disaster relief and emergency response, according to the institute.