Wednesday, September 19, 2018

China Sends BeiDou-3 M13 and M14 Navigation Satellites into Orbit

Long March 3B launches BeiDou-3 M13 and M14 satellites on September 19, 2018. Photo Credit: Xinhua.

Using Long March 3B launcher, China orbited on Thursday, September 19, another pair of BeiDou-3 spacecraft for its homegrown satellite navigation system.

The satellites, designated BeiDou-3 M13 and M14, lifted off atop China’s flagship booster at 10:07 p.m. local time (14:07 GMT / 10:07 a.m. EDT), from the Launch Complex 3 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) located in Sichuan Province.

Launch success was confirmed by the Xinhua state-run press agency some five hours after liftoff.

“China on Wednesday evening successfully sent twin BeiDou-3 navigation satellites into space on a single carrier rocket,” Xinhua informs.

What is typical for space launches conducted by China, the details about Thursday’s orbital flight and pre-launch preparations are kept by the government under tight wraps. What is known is that the duo were placed into a medium-Earth orbit (MEO), and a nominal ride of a BeiDou-3 satellite to such orbital spot lasts around three to four hours.

Both satellites will most likely operate from an altitude of some 13,360 miles (21,500 kilometers), with an inclination of approximately 55.5 degrees. Xinhua noted that M13 and M14 will work together with 12 BeiDou-3 satellites already in orbit, after a series of tests and evaluations.

Each BeiDou-3 M satellite weighs about one metric ton, has two deployable solar arrays and is designed to be operational for about 12 years. The dimensions a spacecraft of this type measure: 7.38 by 3.28 by 4.0 feet (2.25 by 1.0 by 1.22 meters).

BeiDou-3 M13 and M14 represent the third phase of the BeiDou (BDS) system and it is the final stage of the establishment of a Chinese space-based navigation architecture. The constellation should consist of 27 BeiDou-3M satellites in MEO, five BeiDou-3G satellites in a geostationary orbit, and three BeiDou-3I satellites in an inclined geosynchronous satellite orbit. The first BeiDou-3 satellite was launched in March of 2015.

“A basic system with 18 orbiting BeiDou-3 satellites will be in place by the end of the year, which will serve countries participating in the Belt and Road Initiative,” Xinhua reports.

The BeiDou project, named after the Chinese term for the plough or the Big Dipper constellation, was formally launched in 1994. The first BeiDou satellite was sent aloft in 2000 and by 2012 a regional network had already begun to take shape, which provided positioning, navigation, timing, and short message services in China and several other Asian countries.

The three-stage Long March-3B rocket that was employed for this flight is a 180-foot (55-meter) tall launch vehicle that is capable of sending up to 12 metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO) or five metric tons of cargo into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). For some launches, such as this one, this rocket can be equipped with a Yuanzheng-1 (YZ-1) upper stage.

YZ-1 is an independent system installed on the carrier rocket with the ability to send one or more spacecraft into different orbits. This stage can support long mission durations with long coast phases to directly insert payloads close to their target orbit.

Thursday’s launch marked the 258th flight of China’s Long March rocket and the 25th orbital mission for this country in 2018. Beijing’s next launch is currently scheduled for September 20, when a Kuaizhou 1A rocket is slated to deliver the Centispace-1 1S into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO).

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