China lofts navigation craft on Long March booster

Posted: May 25, 2003

A Chinese Long March rocket launched the final centerpiece of a satellite navigation system Saturday that aims to provide users with precise positioning information in three dimensions, state-run news reports said.

The three-stage Long March 3A booster lifted away from its launch pad at the Xichang launching center in the Sichuan province in southwestern China at 1634 GMT (12:34 p.m. EDT) Saturday, or early Sunday at the site.

Aboard the Long March was the third Beidou navigation satellite, which was delivered into a geosynchronous transfer orbit about 20 minutes after launch, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

It joins two other similar spacecraft launched on separate launches in late 2000 to complete an indigenous Chinese positioning and navigation system that makes use of the high frontier.

Chinese news media reported the two craft already in orbit have checked out successfully and are operating well.

Beidou 3 will soon be boosted into a circular geostationary orbit 22,300 miles high along the equator. Once testing is complete, it will become operational for use in a number of different applications.

The Beidou satellites could potentially be used by the transportation industry, weather forecasters, environmental planners, emergency personnel, and in telecommunications, Xinhua reported.

Western analysts believe a likely application of the capability will be in China's military and weapons systems. Data from the spaceborne system could make possible precise weaponry like those that have been used in the United States and other nations in recent years.

Xinhua said the three-satellite constellation provides users with positions in latitude, longitude, and altitude.

Saturday's launch was the first of the year for China and also marks the 28th consecutive successful flight of the Long March family of rockets since 1996.

On a worldwide scale, it marked the 21st launch to orbit in 2003.