China has completed the constellation that will enable basic BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) services with the launch of two BeiDou-3 satellites. Once the two new satellites become operational, China will begin offering BDS services to countries participating in the Belt and Road initiative.
The Long March 3B carrying the two BeiDou-3 satellites lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 18:07 UTC on Sunday (02:07 Monday local time). Following a successful launch, Chinese officials confirmed that they had acquired telemetry from the satellites and both were operating nominally.
China’s BDS network is the country’s answer to the United States’ GPS network and Russia’s GLONASS network. The two new satellites are the 42nd and 43rd BeiDou navigation satellites launched to date and the 18th and 19th launched in aid of the BeiDou-3 network. In addition to completing the basic BDS constellation, the mission also fulfilled China’s BeiDou launch target for 2018.
The next BeiDou mission is expected to be launch aboard a Long March 3A from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in February 2019. Following that, an additional five or six BeiDou missions are expected to be launched through next year.
Sunday’s launch was China’s 33rd of 2018. With a previous record of just 22 launches in a single year (set in 2016), the country looks set to post an astonishing new record.