Spaceflight Insider

China launches its latest BeiDou navigation satellite into space

A Long March 3C rocket launches with the BeiDou-2 Compass G7 satellite on June 12.

A Long March 3C rocket launches with the BeiDou-2 Compass G7 satellite on June 12. Photo Credit:

A Long March 3C launch vehicle soared skyward on Sunday, June 12, to replenish China’s homegrown BeiDou satellite navigation program. The rocket, carrying the BeiDou-2 Compass G7 spacecraft, blasted off at 11:30 a.m. EDT (15:30 GMT) from Launch Area 3 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in China’s Sichuan Province.

The Long March 3C booster took to the skies to complete a short vertical ascent before it started heading in a southeasterly direction. The successful launch of the mission was confirmed by Chinese state-run media slightly over one hour after liftoff.

The rocket’s first stage burned for about two minutes and 20 seconds to accelerate the launch vehicle throughout the critical first phase of the flight. Approximately 20 seconds later, the first stage was jettisoned and the second stage assumed control over the mission.

A Long March 3C rocket launches with the BeiDou-2 Compass G7 satellite on June 12.

A Long March 3C rocket launches with the BeiDou-2 Compass G7 satellite on June 12. Photo Credit: Xinhua

The rocket’s second stage, burning for about three minutes, continued to lift the spacecraft, raising its altitude. When the second stage separated, the third stage led the mission toward the designated geostationary orbit. The satellite’s deployment occurred some 26 minutes into the flight.

BeiDou-2 Compass G7 belongs to the second generation of China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System and is the 23rd satellite in the network. This phase, also known as the Compass Navigation Satellite System, is designed to provide continuous, real-time passive 3-D geo-spatial positioning and speed measurement.

Built by the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), the BeiDou-2 Compass G7 satellite is based on the DFH-3 bus. This platform measures 7.2 by 5.6 by 6.6 feet (2.2 by 1.7 by 2.0 meters) and weighs about two metric tons. The bus is fitted with a laser retroreflector for precise orbit determination, a phased array antenna for the transmission of navigation signals, a C-Band ranging antenna, and also an S/L-band dish antenna. The spacecraft is expected to offer its services for about eight years.

BeiDou-2 Compass G7 will join other BeiDou satellites already in orbit to improve the stability of the system, preparing the network to offer global coverage. This 2nd generation of the network began providing services for the Asia-Pacific region in December 2012. The deployment of the third phase commenced in 2015 and is expected to reach its full operational capability by 2020. The entire constellation of BeiDou spacecraft will consist of 35 satellites.

BeiDou is very similar to the navigation system provided by GPS and the European Galileo, and it is designed to achieve similar performances. The network will be dual use: a free service for civilians, and a licensed service for the Chinese government and military. The civilian service will provide an accuracy of about 33 feet (10 meters) in the user position, 0.45 mph (0.2 m/s) on the user velocity, and 50 nanoseconds in time accuracy. The restricted military and authorized users’ service will provide higher tracking accuracies of 0.33 feet (0.1 meters).

The system has been operating since 2000. It is composed of three parts: the space section, the ground section, and the user section. The space section comprises five geostationary orbit satellites and 30 non-geostationary orbit satellites. The ground section consists of a network of the main control stations, the upload stations, and the monitoring stations. The user section includes terminals of the BeiDou system and some compatible with other navigation satellite systems.

The 185 feet (56.3 meters) tall Long March 3C rocket that was used in Sunday’s mission is a three-stage launch vehicle, designed to deliver up to 3.8 metric tons of payload into a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) and up to 9.1 metric tons to low-Earth orbit (LEO). Its maiden launch was conducted on April 25, 2008.

BeiDou-2 Compass G7 is China’s seventh mission of the year and the 229th flight of the Long March rocket series. In 2016, China intends to carry out more than 20 space missions.

China’s next flight is currently planned for June 27, 2016, when a new version of the Long March booster, the Long March 7, will conduct its maiden flight, carrying the country’s next-generation re-entry capsule. It will also be the first flight conducted from the Wenchang Satellite Launch Center, located on Hainan Island, in southern China.


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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