BEIJING (AP) – China launched the latest satellite in its Beidou constellation that pursues the U.S. Global Positioning System on Tuesday, marking a further step in the country’s advance as a major space power.
The launch of the satellite aboard a Long March-3 rocket was broadcast live from the Xichang satellite launch base, deep in the mountains of southwest China, shortly before 10 a.m. About half an hour later, the satellite orbited the Earth and extended the solar panels to provide its energy.
An initial launch scheduled for last week was dropped after the audits revealed unspecified technical issues.
The third version of the Beidou navigation satellite system promises to provide worldwide coverage for timing and navigation, offering an alternative to GLONASS in Russia and the European Galileo systems, as well as America’s GPS.
The launch of the 55th satellite in the Beidou family shows that China’s commitment to provide global coverage has been “completely successful,” the system’s lead designer, Yang Changfeng, told state broadcaster CCTV.
“In fact, this also means moving from a major space nation to a true space power,” said Yang.
China’s space program has developed rapidly over the past two decades as the government spends a lot of resources developing independent high-tech capabilities – and even dominates in areas such as 5G data processing.
The first version of Beidou, meaning ‘Big Dipper’, was retired in 2012. Future plans call for a smarter, more accessible and more integrated system with Beidou at its core, to be online by 2035.
In 2003, China was only the third country to independently launch a manned space mission, and has since built an experimental space station and sent a few rovers to the moon’s surface.
Future plans call for a fully functioning permanent space station and a possible manned flight to the moon, with the first attempt to send an orbit and rover to Mars, possibly as early as next month. If successful, it would be the only other country besides the United States to land on Earth’s closest planetary neighbor.
The program has suffered some setbacks, including failed launches, and has had limited cooperation with other countries’ space efforts, in part due to US concerns over its close ties to the Chinese military.
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