New Chinese Navigation Satellite Reaches Orbit
China has developed a family of boosters over the years, including new development of a heavy-lift launcher to fly by 2011. Image
Credit: China National Space Administration

China launched its second satellite in less than three days Friday when a Long March 3A rocket successfully delivered a navigation craft into orbit.

Liftoff of China's fifth navigation satellite was at 2011 GMT Friday (4:11 p.m. EDT) from the Xichang launch center in southwest China's Sichuan province, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The unannounced launch was in the early morning hours of Saturday, local time.

The three-stage Long March 3A rocket left its payload in an egg-shaped transfer orbit with an inclination of 55 degrees. The spacecraft will soon use its propulsion system to circularize the orbit at an altitude of about 13,000 miles (20,921 kilometers).

Chinese media reports said the satellite is part of the nation's Compass space-based navigation system, which aims to provide precise location, velocity and timing information to users.

State media did not name the satellite launched Friday, but earlier members of the Compass constellation were called Beidou, which means Big Dipper when translated in English.

The system is similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System and other navigation satellite fleets in development by Russia and the European Union.

The Compass system will consist of five satellites orbiting in the geostationary belt some 22,000 miles above Earth, and 30 more craft circling the planet in a medium orbit, according to earlier Xinhua reports.

Previous Beidou satellites were placed in geostationary orbit, but Friday's launch delivered the first Compass satellite to medium Earth orbit.

More satellites will join the Compass fleet in the next few years, and officials expect the system will provide navigation data to China and neighboring countries by next year. Subsequent launches will then expand the system's coverage globally, Xinhua said.

Friday's launch was the third of the year for China. The newest Beidou satellite was put in space in February, and a marine surveying spacecraft was orbited Wednesday.

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