China launches remote sensing satellite

China on Thursday placed a remote sensing satellite into orbit in the first of a series of launches scheduled for this year, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The Remote Sensing Satellite No. 1 was launched by a Long March 4-B carrier rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in the northern province of Shanxi at 6:48 a.m. (2248 GMT Wednesday), Xinhua said.

The 2.45 metric ton (2.7 ton) satellite will conduct scientific experiments, survey land resources, check on crops and help detect and alleviate natural disasters, the report said.

China plans to launch several communications and scientific experiment satellites this year, the report said, citing an official with state-owned satellite and rocket developer Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology. The exact number wasn't given.

China launched four satellites in 2005, all of them carrying scientific or communications payloads, according to the Web site of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Xinhua said Thursday's mission marked China's 47th consecutive successful launch since October 1996 and was the 89th to be blasted into space atop a rocket in the Long March series.

Satellite launches have been the backbone of China's five-decade-old space program, which grabbed international headlines with the launch of its first manned mission in 2003 _ making China only the third country after Russia and the United States to send a human into orbit on its own.

That was followed last year with a second, more ambitious flight that sent two astronauts into orbit for five days.

Further manned missions are planned, along with ambitions to land an unmanned probe on the moon by 2010 and launch a space station, reports the AP.

I.L.