Chinese Long March 3B rocket to launch Belintersat-1 telecommunications satellite
China is looking to carry out its first launch of the year on Friday, Jan. 15, as it plans to send a Belarusian telecommunications satellite into space. The Belintersat-1 spacecraft will be lofted into orbit by a Chinese workhorse Long March 3B booster from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province. The 47-minute launch window for this mission opens at 11:57 EST (16:57 GMT).
Belintersat-1 will be placed into a geostationary orbit (GEO) at 51.5 degrees East to provide a wide range of telecommunication services, including satellite TV and radio broadcasting as well as broadband internet access. It will be operated by the Belarusian government’s company Belintersat for up to 15 years.
The satellite is already attached to the launch vehicle and is awaiting a Friday liftoff. The most important tests of the spacecraft have been completed and the mission has been OK’d for launch.
“The satellite has been fully checked and tested at the manufacturing site more than a month ago, during the so-called factory tests. One of the most important of them is payload compliance with the requirements like antennas’ gain contours, transponders parameters stability and linearity and so on,” Dmitry Kuzmin of Belintersat told Astrowatch.net.
To be fully prepared for flight, the Long March 3B launch vehicle itself must pass a series of tests and checks hours before the rocket is ignited. These will include powering up the rocket’s electrical systems, electronics functional tests, telemetry checks, examining gas pipes of all stages and boosters, and loading refined aiming data.
Belintersat-1 was built by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC). The car-sized satellite has dimensions of 7.9 by 6.9 by 11.8 feet (2.4 by 2.1 by 3.6 meters) and weighs about 5.2 metric tons. It is based on the CASC’s DFH-4 bus consisting of a propulsion module, service modules, and solar arrays spanning some 72 feet (22 meters) when fully deployed in space.
The DFH-4 platform can be used in high-capacity broadcast communications satellites, new generation direct broadcasting satellites, new generation tracking and data relay satellites, and regional mobile communications satellites. It is a large telecommunications satellite platform of a newer design, one that provides high capability in output power and communication capacity ranking with other international advanced satellite platforms.
The satellite is equipped with 20 C-band and 18 Ku-band transponders delivered by Thales Alenia Space. Thirty-four of which are 36 MHz and 4 are 54 MHz-bandwidth – providing a full set of telecommunication services. The spacecraft has an output power of some 10.15 W.
Belintersat-1 was built to provide a full range of advanced satellite services in Europe, Africa, and Asia, as well as to ensure global coverage in the Eastern Hemisphere.
The spacecraft is part of the Belarusian National System of Satellite Communication and Broadcast – the largest project in the field of telecommunications, implemented by this country. The program was designed to provide telecommunication services for government and commercial clients both in Belarus and overseas.
“Our project is of high innovative, economic, social and political importance to Belarus,” Belintersat states on its website.
The three-stage Long March 3B rocket that will be used in Friday’s flight is currently the most powerful Chinese launch vehicle in service. The 180-foot (55-meter) tall booster is capable of launching up to 12 metric tons of payload to low-Earth orbit (LEO) or 5 metric tons of cargo to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
The 3B/E version that will be employed for the mission is an enhanced variant of the rocket, featuring an enlarged first stage and boosters. This configuration of the launch vehicle was brought into service in 2007 to increase the rocket’s GTO cargo capacity, to allow it to be capable of lifting heavier GEO communications satellites.
The first Chinese mission of the year will be the 223th flight of the Long March rocket series and the 35th flight overall for the 3B version.
With the Belintersat-1 launch, China should see the start of a very busy year in terms of sending payloads to orbit. In 2016, the country intends to carry out more than 20 space missions.
China also plans to return to the business of human space flight this year. Shenzhou-11, a planned crewed mission, is slated to lift off from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center and dock with China’s second planned space station, Tiangong-2, which should be on orbit by the time the crew’s Shenzhou spacecraft is sent aloft. The exact launch dates for these missions have yet to be released.
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.