Towards the end of 2020, China launched the Yaogan-33 remote sensing spy satellite from the Jaquan Satellite Launch Centre through their March 4C rocket. Many believe these are just part of China’s spy satellites and spying network.

The satellite managed to enter the planned orbit successfully and was seen shedding its insulation tiles shortly after

This was the 375th flight mission of the Long March carrier rocket series, sending a micro and nanotechnology system into the designated orbit to conduct scientific experiments, land resources survey, crop yield estimation, and disaster prevention and control. 

These spy satellite launches are directly aligned with the targets outlined in China’s five-year national plan. 

Yaogan 33 satellites

These spy satellites are created by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation to, ostensibly, be used for scientific experiments and disaster prevention per the nation’s five-year plan on National, social, and economic development initiatives. 

With this launch, China proved that the aerospace industry was fast growing. The mission concluded China’s 2020 launch campaign, which used satellites for remote sensing, earth observation, communication, and navigation. 

The Yaogan—33 launch was carried out in Winter with extremely frigid weather conditions, exposing the team to several challenges. This is unusual, and suggests the importance of these launches to those in charge.

For the launches to proceed, more than twenty safeguarding tests had to be carried out, which included safety equipment operation, propellant refueling, payload environmental protection, among many others.  

Spy Satellite Launch Success

The launch success even during difficult inclement weather launches can be attributed to China’s long-term plan to cover sensing satellites and its constant and growing practices. 

In fact, the country lost a Yaogan-33 satellite when the Long March 4C carrier rocket failed on May 22, 2019, however this did not slow down future launches, but rather encouraged more work to ensure future success. 

China bounced back, and by the end of 2020, the March 4C had conducted over 24 successful launches and sent over 50 satellites into different orbits. Showing the importance of these spy satellites to the Chinese future plans. 

The Rocket carrier

The Long March 4C carrier rocket was developed by CASC, similar to the Yaogan 33 satellite. It uses regular temperature liquid as fuel and has a 3-stage launch system, just like standard rockets. It can lift any satellite in the world and send them to the planned orbits. 

Due to its sophisticated technology, it can successfully launch more than one satellite at the same time. It can also carry up to three tons in sun-synchronous orbits at a mind-blowing altitude of 700km. 

The launch center 

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center is located in China’s Inner Mongolia Region. It is the country’s first satellite launch center and consists of several sub-centers. 

It houses a technical center, Mission command, control center, tracking and communication systems, gas supply systems, weather forecast systems, logistic support system, two launch complexes, propellant refueling system, and a Lunch Control Center. 

China previously used it to send scientific and recoverable satellites to different medium and low-earth orbits. Most space missions in China are launched from this site, making it an important center for the Chinese Aerospace industry. 

The first-ever remote sensing satellite, the Yaogan 1, was launched in 2006. At the end of 2020, the Long March 4C carrier rocket had completed 375 flights, making it one of the most formidable Chinese aerospace industry creations. 

Why remote sensing? 

You must be wondering why China is investing so much in remote sensing technologies and why it is such a focus of the five-year plan.

Remote sensing spy satellites mean its possible to cover a large area enabling regional surveys and observations of different phenomena. Countries can easily collect data over scale and at different resolutions. 

An image captured through remote sensing can also be analysed and used in several applications and purposes, including military purposes. Even a single remotely sensed image could gather a large extent of information over a wide area, compared to other more focused data gathering procedures. 

Lastly, remote sensing is unobtrusive since the sensor passively records only the electromagnetic energy from the object of interest. This means it is very covert, and allows for spying without detection. These reasons may explain why China is so heavily focused upon remote sensing technologies.

It’s likely this will continue, to augment the more obvious, and draconian styles of spying and observation of its own citizens, and of its opponents and regional neighbors.


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