China Launches 2 Beidou Navigation Satellites, Nearly Completing Constellation

As 2019 draws to a close, China's space program shows no sign of slowing down its recent feverish pace of launching rockets successfully.

China hefted two new satellites for its Beidou Navigation Satellite System into space on Monday (Dec. 16), according to state media reports. The launch took place at 3:22 p.m. local time (2:22 a.m. EST or 0722 GMT) and with it, China nearly finished its goal of deploying the core of its new navigation system.

Footage on the Chinese news outlet CCTV shows the Long March 3A rocket soaring into a cloudless blue sky, backdropped by green foothills. The media outlet stated that only two more of the planned 24 satellites in the constellation remain to be launched. When that happens — which is expected in the first half of 2020 — the constellation will be fully operational, some six months ahead of its original schedule. 

Video: China Launches Beidou Navigation Satellite Pair
Related: Latest News About China's Space Program

China's Long March 3A rocket launches two Beidou navigation satellites into orbit from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China, on Dec. 16, 2019.  (Image credit: CCTV)

The full constellation will have five to six satellites over any given location on Earth at any time, allowing for global navigation services, according to CCTV. So, you can think of this set of Chinese satellites as their equivalent of the American Global Positioning System (GPS) used by vehicle operators and pedestrians around the world.

"The [Chinese] system will be able to provide all-weather, all-time, high-precision navigation, positioning and timing services anywhere around the world, expanding its service scope from regional to global," said Ping Wang, chief designer of the satellites, in the CCTV report. "Its establishment will mark the end of China's dependence on foreign navigation satellites in positioning and timing overseas."

China's latest successful launch comes after the nation launched several rockets in the last six weeks. The country's recent milestones include launching two satellites at the same launch center six hours apart — and another pair from separate areas about three hours apart.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: