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China’s new Earth Observation Satellites in Unexpected Orbits

Two commercial Earth-observation satellites launched by China on Wednesday (Dec. 28) are not in their intended orbits, according the launch news website Spaceflight Now.

Citing tracking data from the U.S. military, Spaceflight Now reports that China’s two new SuperView 1 satellites (also known as Gaojing 1) are flying in lower-than-expected orbits. The satellites launched into space at 11:23 a.m. Beijing time Wednesday from China’s Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center and are currently in an “egg-shaped” orbit that ranges between 133 miles and 325 miles (214-524 kilometers) above Earth, Spaceflight Now reports. The satellites were expected to be delivered into a 300-mile-high (500 km) orbit by their Long March 2D rocket.

“The satellites would likely re-enter Earth’s atmosphere within months in such a low orbit, and it was unclear late Wednesday whether the craft had enough propellant to raise their altitudes,” Spaceflight Now reports.

The Long March 2D launch of the two satellites followed just one week after China’s successful launch of TanSat, a carbon dioxide mapping satellite, aboard a Long March 2D rocket on Dec. 21 from the country’s Jiuquan satellite launch center. The country also launched the next-generation weather satellite Fengyun-4 aboard a Long March 3B rocket on Dec. 10 from the Xichang satellite launch center.