China has just carried out a new launch for the setting up of its satellite navigation network Beidou (often translated into English as “Compass” in the Western press). China’s aim is to have a constellation of 35 satellites before the end of the decade; this to include 27 in middle Earth orbit (an altitude of 21,500 km), 5 in geostationary orbit and 3 in geosynchronous orbit at an inclination of 55° in relation to the Equator.
Sunday evening’s launch, with two satellites aboard a CZ-3B “Long March” launch vehicle which blasted off at 22:50 (20:50 UT) from the Xichang Launch Centre, in the Yunnan Mountains, will enable middle Earth orbit deployment to begin. The network’s geostationary and geosynchronous components were launched between April 2009 and February 2012. One of the geostationary satellites has proved to be faulty and will soon have to be replaced, but this did not stop the network from going into pre-operational service above China at the end of 2011.
The launch video (in Chinese) Credit: CCTV
The Chinese system will compete with the American GPS, the Russian Glonass and the European Galileo, three systems exclusively composed of satellites in middle Earth orbit. Europe is the furthest behind with its launches, as only two Galileo satellites were launched last October. The next ones are due to be launched at the end of this summer. China is planning to launch another three Beidou satellites this year.
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