China-Brazil Satellite Fails To Orbit: $250M CBERS-3 Likely Fell Back To Earth

By Josh Lieberman on December 9, 2013 6:47 PM EST

china brazil satellite
A satellite launched by China and Brazil today failed to reach orbit shortly after launch. Above, a Long March-3B rocket carries the Chang'e-3 lunar probe. (Photo: Reuters)

Just a few hours after a Chinese-Brazilian satellite was thought to have launched successfully, officials from the two nations said that the craft failed to enter orbit. The China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite 3, or CBERS-3, took off on a Long March 4B rocket this morning from Taiyuan satellite launch center in North China. CBERS-3 was supposed to monitor land use in Brazil, the fourth observation satellite launched by China and Brazil since 1999.  

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"There was a failure in the launch vehicle during flight and the satellite was not positioned in the right orbit," the Taiyuan launch center said in a statement. "Preliminary evaluations suggest CBERS-3 has returned to Earth." Brazilian authorities added that "Chinese engineers responsible for the construction of the launch vehicle are evaluating the causes of the problem....The data obtained show that the subsystems of CBERS 3 functioned normally during the [launch]."

CBERS-3, also known as Ziyuan I-03 in Chinese, was originally scheduled to launch in 2009, but the launch was postponed multiple times. The $250-million satellite was meant to monitor Amazon deforestation over the course of three years using thermal and infrared imagers to locate different types of vegetation and to see where water is stored. While NASA's Landsat satellite can image Amazon rainforest in 16 days, the hope was that CBERS-3 would be able do it in only five days.

Despite the failure of the CBERS-3 satellite, China and Brazil said that they're "confident about future co-operation." The two nations are working on CBERS-4, which is scheduled to launch in 2015.   

It's been a busy couple of weeks for China's space program. In addition to today's launch, China last week launched Chang'e-3, an unmanned spacecraft which is scheduled to land on the lunar surface on December 14, 2013. If the mission is success, the craft will be the first to soft land on the moon since 1976. China plans to establish a permanent space station by 2020, and they're also considering a manned moon mission which would take place between 2025 and 2030.

READ MORE:

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