Chinese Military Communications Satellite Reaches Orbit

Chinese Military Communications Satellite Reaches Orbit
A Chinese Long March 3A rocket launches Nov. 24, 2010 from the Xichang launch complex with the Zhongxing 20A satellite. (Image credit: China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology)

Chinaorbited a militarycommunications satelliteWednesday (Nov. 24) on a Long March rocket, continuing the country'sbusiestyear of space launches since the Chinese space program dawned more thanfourdecades ago.

TheLong March 3A rocket launched at 1609 GMT (11:09 a.m. EST) Wednesdayfrom theXichang space base in southwestern China's Sichuan province. It wasjust aftermidnight Thursday morning at the launch site. [Photoof theLong March 3Alaunch]

The172-foot-tall rocket delivered the Zhongxing20A communicationssatelliteto a geosynchronous transfer orbit stretching from alow point of 125 miles to a high point of 26,000 miles, according totrackingdata. The satellite will use an on-board propulsion system to reach anear-circular orbit about 22,300 miles above Earth.

Zhongxing20A, also known as Chinasat 20A, is believed to be a Chinesemilitary communicationssatellite.Official state-owned media reported the spacecraftwould help improve the country's radio and television broadcasts.

Butthe satellite likely provides secure communications coverage forChinese groundforces.

Thespacecraft is based on the DFH-3 satellite bus from the China Academyof SpaceTechnology. It likely weighed about 5,000 pounds fully fueled atliftoff.

Theflight was the 14th successful Chinesespace launch this year, setting a new mark for thecountry's launchindustry. Before 2010, China had launched no more than 11 rockets intoorbit ina single year.

Copyright 2010,all rights reserved.

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Stephen Clark is the Editor of Spaceflight Now, a web-based publication dedicated to covering rocket launches, human spaceflight and exploration. He joined the Spaceflight Now team in 2009 and previously wrote as a senior reporter with the Daily Texan. You can follow Stephen's latest project at and on Twitter.