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China’s Long March 3B rocket successfully launches first Laotian satellite

A Long March 3B rocket carrying the LaoSat-1 satellite blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichang, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Nov. 20, 2015.

A Long March 3B rocket carrying the LaoSat-1 satellite blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichang, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, Nov. 20, 2015. Photo Credit: Xinhua / Qin Haishi.

China successfully launched the first satellite for Laos, named LaoSat-1 on Friday, Nov. 20. The country’s Long March 3B booster was selected to carry out this historic mission. The rocket lifted off at 11:07 a.m. EST (16:07 GMT) from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province.

The flight was initially scheduled to take place on Saturday, Nov. 21, but authorities decided to conduct the launch earlier to avoid bad weather.

After liftoff, the rocket climbed vertically for just a few seconds until it started to pitch over and roll, heading southeast. Satellite separation occurred about 29 minutes after liftoff, at which time the spacecraft deployed its solar panels. Lastly, the satellite was placed into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), inclined 128.5 degrees East.

A Long March 3B rocket carrying the LaoSat-1 satellite blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichang, southwest China's Sichuan Province, Nov. 20, 2015.

A Long March 3B rocket carrying the LaoSat-1 satellite blasts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Xichang, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, Nov. 20, 2015. Photo Credit: Xinhua / Qin Haishi.

LaoSat-1 is a communications satellite, built by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST). It is based on the DFH-3 bus used often in Chinese navigation satellites for the BeiDou system. LaoSat-1 has a mass of more than 3.8 metric tons with a payload capacity up to 992 lbs (450 kg). It is roughly the size of a car, with dimensions of 7.21 by 6.5 by 10.2 feet (2.2 by 2.0 by 3.1 meters), spanning 59 feet (18 meters) when its solar arrays are deployed. It features 14 extended C-band and 8 extended Ku-band transponders for various communication services. It is designed to be operational for up to 15 years.

The satellite is designed to provide communication links for government works, television transmissions and a range of other telecommunication applications. It will be operated by the Laos National Authority for Science and Technology (NAST). All systems of the LaoSat-1 will be controlled by the Lao Satellite Station in Hadxayfong, Vientiane, which is staffed with 50 Lao nationals, and Chinese experts.

A contract for LaoSat-1 worth $259 million was signed on Feb. 25, 2010, by NAST, China Asia-Pacific Mobile Communications Satellite Company Limited (APMT) and China Great Wall Industry Corporation (CGWIC), which provides launch services.

The satellite should be ready for operations by Dec. 2, 2015, to broadcast the 40th Independence Anniversary celebrations in Laos.

“The launch of the satellite by China is a special gift to Laos to mark the 40th anniversary of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on December 2,” the Laotian Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, Hiem Phommachanh said.

He added that Laos is very proud to have its own satellite for the purposes of socio-economic advancement, which will be an important source of income for the country.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also hailed the LaoSat-1 mission. He perceives the satellite as “a significant manifestation of China-Laos comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership under new circumstances”.

The three-stage Long March 3B rocket used in Friday’s flight is currently the most powerful Chinese rocket in service. The 180-foot (55-meter) tall booster is capable of launching up to 12 metric tons of payload into low-Earth orbit (LEO) or 5 metric tons of cargo into GTO.

The 3B/E version that was employed for the mission is an enhanced variant of the rocket, featuring an enlarged first stage and boosters. This version was brought into service in 2007 to increase the rocket’s GTO cargo capacity and lift heavier geosynchronous equatorial orbit (GEO) communications satellites.

Thanks to the LaoSat-1 liftoff, China continues its impressive streak of successful launches this year. So far, the country has conducted 15 missions to orbit in 2015 – all of them apparently successful. Only Russia and the U.S. performed more launches this year – 22 and 18, respectively. Friday’s flight was also the 218th mission of the Long March carrier rocket series.

China plans two more launches by the end of 2015. The next flight is scheduled to take place on Dec. 18 when a Long March 2D rocket is scheduled to send the DAMPE (DArk Matter Particle Explorer) spacecraft into space. It will be the country’s first-ever dark matter probe. The spacecraft is designed to detect electrons and photons with unprecedented energy resolution in order to identify possible dark matter signatures.

The exact date of the last Chinese launch this year hasn’t been announced yet. The rocket tasked with delivering Gaofen-4 Earth-observing satellite into orbit – will be the Long March 3B booster. Given that many of China’s launches are shrouded in secrecy, the Gaofen-4 satellite could be launched earlier without any prior notice.

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Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.

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