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Two new BeiDou-3 navigation satellites launched atop Long March 3B

Long March 3B launches with BeiDou-3 M11 and M12 satellites on August 25, 2018.

Long March 3B launches with BeiDou-3 M11 and M12 satellites on August 25, 2018. Photo Credit: Xinhua/Liang Keyan.

On Saturday, August 25, China successfully launched its Long March 3B booster carrying two new BeiDou-3 spacecraft to replenish China’s homegrown satellite navigation network.

Liftoff occurred at 7:52 a.m. local time (23:52 GMT; 7:52 p.m. EDT on August 24) from Launch Complex 3 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center (XSLC) in China’s Sichuan Province.

The flight’s success was confirmed by the state-run Xinhua press agency some nine hours after the rocket had left the pad.

“China on Saturday successfully sent twin BeiDou navigation satellites into space on a single carrier rocket,” Xinhua informed.

Very little is known about the mission’s pre-launch preparations or about the launch itself. Xinhua only noted that both satellites were deployed into orbit more than three hours after the launch and that they will become operational after a series of on-orbit tests.

The duo were most likely inserted into a medium-Earth orbit (MEO) at an altitude of some 13,360 miles (21,500 kilometers) with an inclination of approximately 55.5 degrees.

The two satellites sent to orbit on Saturday are designated BeiDou-3 M11 and M12, and were developed by the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Both spacecraft are based on a newly-developed dedicated satellite bus with phased array antenna for navigation signals and a laser retroreflector.

Each BeiDou-3 MEO satellite weighs about one metric ton, has two deployable solar arrays and is designed to be operational for about 12 years. The dimensions a spacecraft of this type measure: 7.38 by 3.28 by 4.0 feet (2.25 by 1.0 by 1.22 meters).

BeiDou-3 M11 and M12, which belong to the third phase of the BeiDou (BDS) satellite navigation system, are the 35th and 36th satellites of the program. Named after the Chinese term for the Big Dipper constellation, the project was formally launched in 1994 and the first satellite was sent aloft in 2000. By 2012, a regional network had begun to take shape, which provided positioning, navigation, timing, and short message services in China and several other Asian countries.

China intends to have the BeiDou-3 constellation consisting of some 27 BeiDou-3M satellites in MEO, five BeiDou-3G satellites in a geostationary orbit, and three BeiDou-3I satellites in an inclined geosynchronous satellite orbit. The first BeiDou-3 satellite was launched in March of 2015.

“A basic system with 18 BeiDou-3 satellites orbiting will be in place by the year end, which will serve countries participating in the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative,” Xinhua informed last month when BeiDou-3 M5 and M6 were launched into space.

The three-stage Long March 3B rocket is 180 feet (55 meters) tall and capable of sending up to 12 metric tons of payload into low-Earth orbit or five metric tons of cargo into a geostationary transfer orbit. For Saturday’s launch, this rocket was equipped with a Yuanzheng-1 (YZ-1) upper stage.

Saturday’s mission was the 283rd flight for a member of the Long March rocket series and the 23rd launch carried out by China in 2018. Beijing’s next scheduled flight is currently targeted for Sept. 20, when a Kuaizhou 1A rocket is slated to deliver the Centispace-1 1S into a Sun-synchronous orbit (SSO). However, some other launches may occur prior to this as China performs many orbital flights – without any prior notice.




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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