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US and China set to launch classified satellites this week - TWIRL #157

TWIRL logo in front of Delta IV Heavy

We will see the United States and China launch classified satellites this week. We have no idea what China is launching but it’s suspected that the US is launching the Orion 12 signals intelligence satellite.

Monday, 25 March

  • Who: SpaceX
  • What: Falcon 9
  • When: 9:00 p.m. UTC - 1:31 a.m. UTC
  • Where: Florida, US
  • Why: SpaceX will be launching a Falcon 9 rocket carrying 23 Starlink satellites to a low Earth orbit. If you want to observe this specific set of satellites flying in the night sky you can use apps like ISS Detector and look for Starlink Group 6-46. These satellites join the Starlink constellation which lets customers on Earth get connected to the net via these satellites.

Tuesday, 26 March

  • Who: CNSA

  • What: Long March 6A
  • When: 10:50 p.m. UTC
  • Where: Taiyuan, China
  • Why: China will be launching a Long March 6A rocket carrying an unknown payload into orbit. Due to the secrecy surrounding the payload, it could be military or reconnaissance.

Thursday, 28 March

  • Who: United Launch Alliance

  • What: Delta IV Heavy
  • When: Unknown
  • Where: Florida, US
  • Why: ULA will be launching a Delta IV Heavy carrying a classified spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. The satellite could be Orion 12, a large signals intelligence satellite which would explain why such a big rocket is needed for the launch.

Saturday, 30 March

  • Who: Roscosmos

  • What: Soyuz 2.1b
  • When: 9:36 a.m. UTC
  • Where: Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
  • Why: Russia will be launching a Soyuz 2.1b rocket carrying the fourth Resurs-P satellite. It's an Earth observation satellite used by the Ministries of Agriculture and Fishing, Meteorology, Transportation, Emergencies, Natural Resources, and Defence. It is capable of snapping ground images with a resolution of 1 metre.

  • Who: SpaceX
  • What: Falcon 9
  • When: 10:00 p.m. UTC
  • Where: Florida, US
  • Why: SpaceX will use a Falcon 9 to launch the Eutelsat 36D comms satellite. It will be replacing the Eutelsat 36B before it runs out of fuel.


  • The first launch we saw last week was a Starlink satellite launch. After the Falcon 9 took off, the first stage of the rocket performed a landing for reuse.
  • Next up was the launch of a Long March 8 Y3 which was carrying the Queqiao-2 relay satellite. This satellite will act as a relay between ground ops in China and the country’s lunar rovers.
  • The third launch of the week was an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab. It launched a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.
  • We go back to China for the next launch, a Long March 2D carried up to space the second group of Yunhai-2 satellites. They will be used in the detection of atmospheric environmental elements, space environment monitoring, disaster prevention and mitigation, and scientific experiments.
  • A SpaceX Falcon 9 was next to launch, carrying the CRS-30 Dragon spacecraft which was heading to the space station to deliver cargo.
  • While not a rocket launch, India’s ISRO landed a Reusable Launch Vehicle called Pushpak. You can see it in action below.
  • Finally, Russia launched the Soyuz-2.1a from Kazakhstan carrying a Russian cosmonaut, a NASA astronaut, and the first Belarusian woman, Marina Vasilevskaya, to the space station.

That’s all for this week, check in next time.

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