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China achieves milestone with launch of world’s first geosynchronous orbit radar satellite


China has once again demonstrated its prowess in space technology with the successful launch of what is believed to be the world’s first geosynchronous orbit synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite. The monumental launch took place on August 12 at 1:36 p.m. Eastern Time from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China.

The Land Exploration-4 01 (Ludi Tance-4 (01)) satellite, lifted into orbit by a Long March 3B rocket, triumphantly entered geosynchronous transfer orbit, marking a significant achievement for China’s space endeavors. The China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) wasted no time in announcing this historic feat within an hour of the liftoff.

While specific details about the satellite remain limited, CASC’s “blue book” plans for 2023, unveiled earlier this year, hinted at the launch of a “high-orbit 20-meter [resolution] SAR satellite.” This L-band SAR satellite is poised to deliver round-the-clock, all-weather observations of China and its neighboring regions. This development is anticipated to greatly bolster China’s disaster prevention, reduction, and relief capabilities.

The satellite is a part of China’s broader strategic vision outlined in its Medium and Long Term Development Plan for Civilian Space Infrastructure (2015-2025). This vision encompasses the establishment of high and medium resolution optical and synthetic aperture radar constellations to facilitate land, marine, and atmospheric monitoring. The newly launched series, distinct from China’s Gaofen satellites, seeks to harness the benefits of SAR technology in geosynchronous orbit.

While the specific orbital scheme for the Land Exploration-4 (01) satellite has yet to be disclosed, the “figure eight” ground track produced by an inclined geosynchronous orbit suggests potential coverage patterns over designated areas. Chinese experts from institutions like the Beijing Institute of Technology have studied various orbital configurations, and research into modified signal models for geosynchronous orbit SAR continues to unfold.

The accomplishment of launching the Land Exploration-4 (01) satellite underscores the remarkable capabilities of China’s space community. The satellite was developed under the auspices of the China Academy of Spacecraft Technology (CAST), an institution known for its contributions to advancing space technology.

In a double success, China’s momentum in space continued with the launch of five automatic identification system (AIS) tracking satellites for HEAD Aerospace, an affiliate of CASC. These satellites, propelled into orbit by a Kuaizhou-1A light-lift solid rocket on August 14, represent a crucial step in furthering China’s maritime data collection and transmission capabilities.

As China marks its 35th and 36th orbital missions of 2023, the country’s space ambitions show no signs of slowing down. With a target of approximately 70 launches this year, China’s space agency, alongside its growing commercial launch service providers, is poised to continue making groundbreaking strides in space exploration.

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