Two more Beidou navigation satellites have been launched aboard a Long March 3B rocket. The launch was China’s 28th of the year as the country continues their frenetic launch cadence.
The pair of Beidou satellites were launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwest China at 04:23 UTC (12:23 local time) on Monday, October 15. Following the launch, Chinese officials confirmed that both satellites had deployed their solar arrays and were operating nominally.
Yesterday success deployed the 39th and 40th satellites in aid of the Beidou navigation system. The system will provide both the Chinese military and corporate partners with a homegrown alternative to the United States GPS system. The system has gone through two demonstration variants BDS-1 and BDS-2. The recent launches are in aid of the upgraded operational system, BDS-3. China hopes to have the BDS-3 system complete and operational by 2020.
As has been the case with previous launches from Xichang, spent stages from the Long March 3B fell back to Earth close to populated areas in the region. Officials have confirmed that there were no injuries or property damage. The launch, however, carried a series of technology demonstrations that may negate the risk to civilians downrange in the future.
In addition to carrying the pair of Beidou satellites, yesterday’s Long March 3B launch also carried data logging and active tracking equipment. These payloads recorded valuable data that will assist engineers to determine the altitude and timing for the deployment of parachutes. With this data in hand, China can move ahead with fitting parachutes to all rocket components likely to fall back to Earth. The country plans to launch the first prototype of this system in the first half of next year.