Last night, at 1:56 am Beijing time (UTC +8), China launched a pair of BeiDou-3 satellites that will add to China’s BeiDou-3 navigation constellation. These will be China’s 30th and 31st BeiDou-3 satellites.
The launch took place from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, using a Long March 3B launch vehicle. The success of the launch was confirmed by China’s space agency, the China National Space Administration (CNSA), approximately 4 hours after liftoff. According to the agency, the pair of BeiDou satellites was determined to have reached the correct orbit and undergone testing about 3 hours after launch.
This pair of BeiDou-3 satellites, part of the BeiDou-3M series, will join three existing pairs of satellites from the same series, launched on 13 February 2018, 12 January 2018 and 5 November 2017. Each of these launches has seen a pair of “twin” satellites, lofted into Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) on a single launcher, with each satellite reportedly having a mass of about 1,000 kg. Yesterday’s launch will make up the 7th and 8th satellites of this constellation.
CASC has reported that the Long March 3B is expected to conduct 10 BeiDou launches in 2018, with 8 of these carrying 2 satellites each. With these launches, BeiDou, which is China’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS), will be able to offer full regional coverage by the end of 2018. Specifically, CNSA has mentioned that by the end of this year, the BeiDou “twin satellite” system, as the BeiDou-3M is known by, will be able to serve Belt and Road countries. China hopes to be able to complete its BeiDou constellation to offer global coverage by 2020.
CASC has dubbed 2018 China’s “Super Year for Space”; so far in 2018, China has already conducted 7 successful launches. Launches will be resumed after China’s New Year celebrations.