China launched the final satellite of the country’s BeiDou-3 constellation early this morning. The constellation will be used to offer GPS-equivalent services to mainland China and beyond.
The BeiDou-3 satellite was launched aboard a Long March 3B/E from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 01:43 UTC this morning. Unlike most other missions launched by the Chinese government, there was no need to wait for an official confirmation that the launch had been successful.
In a rare gift of overwhelming transparency, China live-streamed the entire mission from liftoff to deployment. Most notably, a camera that was mounted to the rocket’s upper stage captured spectacular footage of the satellite’s solar arrays unfurling following its deployment.
With the successful deployment of the satellite, China has completed the BeiDou-3 constellation. Consisting of three satellites in inclined geosynchronous orbits, three in geosynchronous orbits, and 24 in Medium Earth orbits, the 30-satellite constellation will offer navigation services similar to the United States GPS system and the Russian GLONASS system.
Following this morning’s launch, reports started to surface that the spent Long March 3B/E stages and dropped near populated areas downrange. This is not a unique occurrence and the practice has been criticized internationally for several years.
Although this latest launch from Xichang did not directly threaten populated areas, one section of debris narrowly missed a reservoir in Yuqing county, Guizhou. If the stage had landed in the reservoir, the noxious N2O4/UDMH propellant would likely have poisoned the water beyond practical use.