Saturday, January 12, 2019

Long March 3B Sends Zhongxing 2D Satellite into Orbit on the First Space Launch of 2019

Long March 3B launches Zhongxing 2D satellite on January 10, 2019. Credit: Xinhua

China successfully carried out the first launch of the year Thursday with the lofting of the Zhongxing 2D communications satellite to geostationary transfer orbit. Liftoff of the enhanced Long March 3B launch vehicle occurred at 17:11 UTC January 10 (01:11 Beijing time, January 11) at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwestern China.

People's Liberation Army Daily, a military newspaper, confirmed success of the launch 70 minutes later.

Little is known about the payload, also known as ChinaSat 2D, which was described tersely by Xinhua as a Chinese-made communication and broadcasting satellite designed to, "provide transmission service for the country's radio, television stations and cable television networks."

The satellite will use its own propulsion to maneuver into a circular orbit nearly 22,300 miles (35,800 kilometers) over the equator in the next few weeks, where its velocity will keep pace with the Earth’s rotation, giving it a fixed geographic coverage zone.

Zhongxing 2D is likely based on the DFH-4 satellite design produced by the China Academy of Space Technology, another government-owned contractor in the Chinese space program. Thursday’s launch was not announced in advance, other than the release of warnings to pilots of an impending unspecified rocket launch, and no further details about the satellite’s design or mission were released. Zhongxing 2D joins previous communications satellites in the Zhongxing/Chinasat line that likely provide services to the Chinese military, and the craft launched Thursday could have a similar military mission.

Thursday’s launch was the first orbital mission worldwide, and for China, in 2019. China launched 39 space missions last year, a record pace for the Chinese space program, and more than any other country in 2018, but officials have not yet disclosed how many launches are planned from China in 2019.

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