A Chinese Long March rocket hauled a new navigation satellite to a high-altitude perch over Earth on Saturday, marking the first space launch of the year for the world's space programs.
The Long March 3C rocket blasted off from the Xichang space center at 1612 GMT (11:12 a.m. EST) Saturday, or just after midnight Sunday morning local time, state media reported.
The 180-foot-tall booster flew east from Xichang, which is situated in Sichuan province in southwestern China. The Beidou, or Compass, navigation satellite was placed on a trajectory toward geosynchronous orbit, according to the Xinhua news agency.
The satellite is the third member of the second-generation Beidou constellation. Two spacecraft were launched to medium Earth orbit and geosynchronous orbit in 2007 and 2009, respectively.
First-generation satellites were launched between 2000 and 2007 to test the Beidou concept in space and provide limited services for China.
China eventually expects to launch 35 Beidou satellites, allowing the system to have a global reach similar to the U.S. Global Positioning System. Russia operates a fleet of Glonass navigation satellites, and Europe is developing the Galileo satellite navigation system.
Officials hope the Beidou system will provide navigation, timing and messaging services to the Asia-Pacific region by 2012, Xinhua reported.
China says Beidou services will be available at no charge to civilians with positioning accuracy of about 10 meters, or 33 feet. More precise navigation data will be given to Chinese government and military users, according to Xinhua.
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