Two BeiDou navigation satellites were launched aboard a Long March 3B late Sunday. The launch was the fourth in support of China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (a home-grown alternative to the United States GPS network) this year.
The Long March 3B carrying the BeiDou-3 M19 and BeiDou-3 M20 satellites was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in the Sichuan Province at 21:10 UTC on Sunday, September 22. Following the launch, Chinese news agency Xinhuanet confirmed that both satellites were successfully deployed into their respective Medium Earth orbits.
This was the fourth dedicated launch in support of China’s BeiDou constellation this year. The three previous launches in April (BeiDou-3 I1Q), May (BeiDou-2 G8), and June (BeiDou-3 I2Q) each deployed a single navigation satellite into orbit. Yesterday’s launch was the first this year to carry multiple BeiDou-3 satellites adding the 47th and 48th satellites to the BeiDou constellation.
China hopes to carry out an additional three BeiDou launches this year beginning with the launch of the BeiDou-3 I3Q satellite in October. The subsequent two launches are each expected to carry two BeiDou-3 satellites.
The BeiDou Navigation Satellite System is China’s answer to the United States GPS and Russia’s GLONASS networks. On December 27, 2018, China confirmed that the BeiDou network had begun providing global positioning services. However, the network is not expected to be fully operational until 2020. Once operational it will offer navigation capabilities to both Chinese military operations and commercial partners.