Coming off a record year of space activity, China launched Saturday their first satellite of 2011, a year that should see the country orbit a mini-space station and make leaps in other areas of space technology.
A Long March 3A rocket lifted off at 2047 GMT (4:47 p.m. EDT) Saturday from the Xichang launching base southwestern China’s Sichuan province, according to the Xinhua news agency.
Liftoff was at 4:47 a.m. Sunday Beijing time.
The 17-story rocket hurled a Beidou navigation satellite into an orbit stretching from an altitude of 120 miles to more than 21,000 miles above Earth. The orbital inclination is 55 degrees, according to independent tracking data.
The launch was declared a success by the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology.
The spacecraft will fire an on-board engine to raise its altitude to about 22,300 miles. The high-inclination orbit will put the satellite in range of users in polar regions.
It is the eighth operational Beidou satellite launched since 2007 and the first Chinese navigation payload shot into orbit this year.
The Beidou satellite network will eventually consist of more than 30 spacecraft in orbit providing global navigation and positioning coverage by 2020. The first phase of the system’s deployment wrapped up with Saturday’s launch, giving Chinese officials an opportunity to evaluate how the satellite fleet works together in space.
More satellites will be launched through 2012 to expand the Beidou network’s coverage throughout the Asia-Pacific region, according to state media reports.
The Chinese equivalent of the U.S. Global Positioning System, the Beidou, or Compass, satellite fleet will provide precise navigation data to China’s military and civil government officials. Positioning information with an accuracy of 10 meters, or about 33 feet, will be released to the public worldwide.
Saturday’s launch was the first Chinese space mission of 2011 after a nearly four-month gap in rocket flights since December. China conducted 15 successful space launches last year, a record level of activity in that country’s history of spaceflight.
In addition to more Beidou launches planned this year, China has scheduled the launch of the Tiangong space laboratory and an unmanned Shenzhou spaceship in the second half of this year. The two craft are designed to accomplish China’s first docking in space, setting the stage for another Chinese human crew to visit the mini-space station complex in 2012.
State media reports claim China could launch as many as 20 rockets into orbit this year.
Source: Spaceflight Now