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A Beidou-3 positioning and navigation satellite, ahead of launch into medium Earth orbit. CNS

China to launch 7 more Beidou navigation satellites this year in push to complete GPS rival system

China has launched 11 Beidou satellites so far in 2018, contributing to an unprecedented launch cadence, and CNSO director Ran Chengqi recently told state media seven more would follow before the end of November. The latest launch, at the end of August, saw the 35th and 36th Beidou satellites enter orbit, following the launch of the first in 2000.

The next launch is currently understood to be taking place around September 19 from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in the southwestern province of Sichuan, though the first firm indication of imminent launch may come from airspace closure notices.

That, and two further similar launches, aim to place pairs of Beidou-3 (third phase for global coverage) satellites into medium Earth orbits (MEO). A further satellite will be sent to a geosynchronous orbit.

The completed Beidou system will have 27 satellites in MEO at around 22,000 km altitude, five in geostationary orbit and three more in inclined geosynchronous orbits, at 35,786 km, providing global GNSS coverage with a positioning accuracy of 2.5 metres.

It is being tied to the Belt and Road initiative, a signature project of Chinese president Xi Jinping, which includes a somewhat nebulous constellation of countries.

The Beidou navigation system, which takes its name from the Chinese asterism equivalent to the Plough or Big Dipper, is China's answer to the US Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia's GLONASS and Europe's Galileo GNSS constellations.

GNSS provide civilian applications such as navigation for shipping and road traffic, mapping and surveying, but also assist military forces from space, facilitating targeting, positioning and locating, and the synchronising of operations. The development of Beidou will end previous Chinese military reliance on GPS.

Xinhua last week reported that the industry associated with China's BeiDou navigation system has grown at over 20 percent year-on-year since 2009, and is expected to reach 400 billion yuan ($58.5 billion) by 2020.

Beidou-3 medium earth orbit satellites are developed by either the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) or the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), a spacecraft designer and maker under the main contractor for the Chinese space programme, the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC).

CALT, another CASC institute, is responsible for the Long March 3A, 3B and 3C launch vehicles used for Beidou launches. The Long March 3B stands almost 55 metres high, with a diameter of 3.35 metres on the core stage. The launcher has a mass at liftoff of 458,970 kg, or just over 1 million pounds.

Beidou satellite launches to medium Earth orbits use a Long March 3B with an Yuanzheng-1 upper stage for direct insertion. However, the expended first stages often land near populated areas downrange as the rocket flies from its inland origin.

China's record year of launches

CASC has so far carried out 24 launches this year from a possible 35. As well as Beidou satellite missions, upcoming launches will include the Haiyang-2B marine observation and China-France Oceanography SATellite (CFOSAT), the Chang'e-4 lunar far side landing and roving mission, and possibly the third Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket.

Commercial launch companies Landspace and OneSpace could add to the list of Chinese orbital launches in 2018 with the debuts of the Landspace Zhuque-1 and OneSpace OS-M1 multi-stage solid-fuelled rockets. Expace, a subsidiary of defence contractor CASIC, will this month launch its second Kuaizhou-1A rocket.

Missions will launch from China's three inland launch centres, with Xichang being the most active.

(Credits: gbTimes China)


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