4B rocket

An Earth observation satellite designed to collect three-dimensional mapping imagery rode a Long March 4B rocket into orbit Sunday with three smaller spacecraft, including one to test an innovative French-made iodine thruster, and another satellite built for Sudan.

Hailed as a milestone in cooperation between European and Chinese space industries, the French thruster was made by a Paris-based startup named ThrustMe. Integrated into a briefcase-sized 6U CubeSat, the propulsion system is the first of its kind to be tested in space, officials said.

4B rocket

The primary payload launched Sunday was Gaofen 7, the latest in a series civilian-operated Chinese Earth observation satellites. Gaofen 7 is China’s first civilian-use optical surveillance satellite capable of collecting three-dimensional images with better than one-meter (3.3-foot) resolution, according to the China National Space Administration.

Two other small satellites were aboard Sunday’s launch: Huangpu 1, a technology demonstration satellite for a planned constellation of low Earth orbit satellites, and the Sudan Scientific Experimental Satellite.

The four satellites lifted off at 0322 GMT Sunday (11:22 p.m. EDT Saturday) from the Taiyuan space center in northeastern China’s Shanxi province, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

A 15-story Long March 4B booster carried the satellites into orbit. The three-stage rocket delivered the quartet of payloads into a near-circular polar orbit roughly 310 miles (500 kilometers) above Earth, with an inclination of 97.5 degrees to the equator, according to U.S. military tracking data.

Chinese officials declared the launch a success.

The Xinhua news agency said the Gaofen 7 satellite, the largest spacecraft on Sunday’s launch, was developed by the China Academy of Space Technology, a state-owned contractor in the Chinese space program.

Gaofen 7’s high-resolution optical imager and laser altimeter will gather precise topographic data, officials said.

The Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and the National Bureau of Statistics will be the main users of Gaofen 7 satellite data, according to Xinhua.

The Gaofen satellites, which began launching in 2013, are part of the China High-Resolution Earth Observation System, or CHEOS. Chinese officials say the CHEOS satellite fleet is a civilian-operated program comprising optical and radar imaging spacecraft, and authorities have published high-resolution imagery taken by previous Gaofen satellites.