Surprise Chinese launch places another “experimental” satellite in orbit

Yup, the Chinese decided to surprise everyone with the launch of a Long March 4b, according to this NASASpaceflight.com article.  I can’t even imagine the hullabaloo this created on our SBIRS (Space Based Infrared System) operators if this rocket’s intense heat source was really not expected.  Imagine seeing something emerge from a not-so-friendly country–something big that you weren’t expecting.  It might be a rocket or an ICBM.  It’s probably a back-of-the-pants-filling experience.  Hmmm, well it’s at least obvious Armageddon wasn’t unleashed this time.

The satellite payload, named Shijian-16, of the Long March is designed to, according to the article, “space environment measurements and technology testing.”  It’s in a low earth orbit of  around 373 miles (600 km) with about a 75 degree inclination.  So make of that what you will.  But if Shijian-16’s mission is as generic-sounding as all that, why launch and not let the rest of the world know beforehand?  Heck, I’m sure there are plenty of subject-matter experts around the world who could help them with these measurements.

This site has noted in other posts the Chinese have launched other “interesting” satellites in the past few months.  And each time they’ve obfuscated the intent of these systems.  Not to say we don’t launch our own “spy” satellites.  But at least our news seems to describe them as such, point blank.

If you’d like to read a little bit about some of the Shijian satellite program’s history, just go here.  There seem to be a lot of them with missions that are “unknown.”

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