China launches the Gaofen-11 high-resolution surveillance satellite to compete with the United States

China deployed its 3rd Gaofen-11 reconnaissance spacecraft on November 19, bringing the total number of classified satellites possessing an optical resolution that might rival top US spy satellites to three.

The Gaofen-11 (03) spacecraft was deployed into an altitude orbit measuring (247 x 694-kilometer) tilted by 97.5 degrees by the Long March 4B rocket deployed from Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center situated in the northern China at exactly 8:51 p.m. Friday.

Shortly after orbital insertion, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. (CASC) proclaimed launch success. However, no information about the satellite’s capabilities was provided. The satellite will be “primarily utilized for land surveys, crop yield estimation, land rights confirmation, city planning, road network design, and disaster mitigation and prevention,” according to state media Xinhua.

The civilian CHEOS (China High-resolution Earth Observation System) is made up of Gaofen satellites that are hyperspectral, optical, multispectral, as well as synthetic aperture radar satellites. Lower-numbered Gaofen series satellites have had their resolution capabilities as well as other information published.

Gaofen spacecraft numbered 8 and up, contrastingly, have not been officially revealed inside or prior to deployment reports, implying that the satellites are meant for the national defense purposes.

On the mission control displays shown on state media, renderings of the very first Gaofen-11 satellite in the orbit suggest the set of satellites will have enormous (1.5-meter-diameter-extra) apertures for the optical remote sensing.

According to a November 2020 article that was published by Chinese Society for Geodesy, Photogrammetry, and Cartography (Chinese), the Gaofen-11 satellite can return optical pictures with a resolution of roughly 10 cm. According to the interview-based article, this is akin to the United States Keyhole reconnaissance satellite system’s perceived but classified capabilities.

In August 2019, President Trump posted a smartphone snapshot of an image of the Iranian pre-launch failure taken by an apparent KENNEN satellite, demonstrating the classified satellites’ imaging capabilities. During its maiden trip in 1981, another satellite imaged the Space Shuttle Columbia to inspect the damage towards its thermal protection system.

As per the Xi’an Branch of the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) under the CASC agency, that created the satellite data transmission as well as relay subsystems, the 3 Gaofen-11 satellites would be networked together. This suggests that the latest Gaofen-11 (03) is going to circularize its orbit to be able to match the 495-kilometer heights of the previous two, deployed in 2020 and 2018.

China’s 44th orbital launch of 2021 has already surpassed the previous national record of 39 orbital deployments in a calendar year set in 2018 and 2020. A fresh launch is slated for between 6:37 and 7:04 p.m. Eastern November 22 from Jiuquan region, northwest China, according to an active Notice to Airmen (NOTAM).

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