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Chinese rocket sends navigation satellite to space

Posted: December 17, 2010

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Another Chinese Beidou navigation satellite soared into space Friday, the fifth craft to join the country's fleet of positioning satellites in 2010.

The Long March 3A rocket lifts off from Xichang, China. Credit: China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology
The successful launch also marked the 15th time this year a Chinese rocket has reached orbit, extending the country's record number of space missions in a single year. China has not announced any more satellite launches before the end of 2010.

A Long March 3A rocket blasted off at 2020 GMT (3:20 p.m. EST) from the Xichang launching center in southwestern China's Sichuan province, according to the Xinhua news agency.

Liftoff was at 12:20 a.m. Beijing time Saturday.

The 172-foot-tall rocket was supposed to haul the Beidou navigation payload to a temporary orbit stretching from 100 miles to more than 22,000 miles above Earth. The three-stage booster was targeting an orbital inclination angle of 55 degrees.

The rocket's launch was successful, according to 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 seventh operational Beidou satellite launched since 2007. Five Beidou craft have been sent into orbit this year.

Four spacecraft are in geosynchronous orbit over the equator, one satellite circles about 13,000 above the planet, and two craft are in high-inclination orbits, including the Beidou launched Friday.

The Beidou, or Compass, network should be ready to provide positioning and navigation services for China and neighboring countries by 2012. Global service should be available from up to 35 Beidou satellites by 2020, according to Chinese officials.

The Beidou fleet will provide Chinese military and citizens an indigenous source of precise navigation information. The country currently relies on the U.S. Air Force's Global Positioning System.

The constellation is China's counterpart to the U.S. GPS system, Russia's Glonass navigation satellites and the Galileo network being developed by Europe.

China says Beidou services will be available at no charge to civilians with positioning accuracy of about 10 meters, or 33 feet. More precise navigation data will be given to Chinese government and military users.