Chinese data relay spacecraft put into orbit
BY STEPHEN CLARK
Posted: April 25, 2008
China launched a data relay satellite Friday to serve as a communications link between ground controllers and the country's next human space mission later this year.
A Long March 3C rocket, boosted by a pair of liquid-fueled strap-on engines, lifted off from the Xichang launch base in southwestern China at 1535 GMT (11:35 a.m. EDT), according a report by the state-owned Xinhua news agency.
The 180-foot-tall Long March 3C rocket version was making its first flight Friday. Capable of launching communications satellites up to 8,400 pounds into geosynchronous transfer orbit, the configuration was devised to bridge a gap between smaller and larger rockets in the Chinese arsenal.
The launcher released the spacecraft about a half-hour later into an egg-shaped transfer orbit with a high point of about 26,000 miles. Named Tianlian 1, the satellite will guide itself into a circular orbit during the next few weeks.
Tianlian 1 is the first of several craft designed to alleviate China's reliance on international ground stations and tracking ships for communications with the country's growing fleet of satellites.
The data relay satellite launched Friday will be first used this fall when China takes its next step in human spaceflight with the Shenzhou 7 mission. Shenzhou 7 will carry three Chinese astronauts into orbit and include the Chinese space program's first spacewalk.
Tianlian 1 will cover about half of Shenzhou 7's planned orbit, more than four times more than the coverage provided by ground stations and tracking ships, Xinhua reported.
Friday's flight marked the first space launch of the year for China, which successfully completed 10 launches last year.