China's new navigation system is nearly complete with penultimate Beidou satellite launch

The Chinese Beidou satellite navigation system is almost finished, thanks to the launch of a new satellite this week.

China launched its 54th Beidou satellite on a Long March 3B rocket on Monday (March 9). The rocket lifted off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China at 7:55 p.m. local time (7:55 a.m. EDT; 1155 GMT). Footage from state media outlet CCTV showed a flawless night liftoff as the satellite rocketed into space, en route to geosynchronous orbit.

In a speech broadcast on CCTV, Yang Changfeng, chief designer of the Beidou Navigation Satellite System, said the satellite series is using advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and blockchain, which links blocks of data together using cryptography.

Video: China launches 54th Beidou constellation satellite
Related: Coronavirus isn't stopping China from launching rockets

A Long March 3B rocket lifts off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center on March 9, 2020, carrying the 54th satellite of China's Beidou navigation system into orbit. (Image credit: CCTV)

"We have focused on constantly developing the Beidou system's new application modes and new business forms, as well as its integration with the new economy," Changfeng said in the speech, which was delivered in Chinese and translated by CCTV. 

The China Aerospace Science and Technology corporation declared the launch "a complete success" and said a final launch in May will complete the constellation, according to a statement translated into English using computer translation.

The satellite series, which is China's equivalent to the Global Positioning System (GPS) in the United States, will use satellites in a range of orbits. Sectors that will use the Beidou system include public security, power, disaster reduction, smart cities, fishing and transportation, according to SpaceNews. Beidou can also be used by the People's Liberation Army for weapons guidance and targeting, among other things.

Chinese social media users shared images and information about the launch before it was announced by Chinese state media, SpaceNews added, noting that villages in "drop zones" (where spent rocket stages fall to Earth) were told a little ahead of time in case an evacuation would be necessary. Xichang launches can pose a threat to inhabited areas; in November 2019, another Beidou launch on a Long March 3B rocket ended with booster segments crashing into a settlement downrange.

CCTV footage showed the workers taking extra health precautions during preparations at Xichang, including wearing face masks. The novel coronavirus has made its mark in China, where the bulk of the world's nearly 130,000 reported cases are located. That said, the World Health Organization notes cases in China are declining, and it says the pandemic can be contained in other countries as long as proper measures are taken.

A report in China's Global Times on Monday suggests most areas of the Chinese space industry have avoided severe disruption from coronavirus, except for the virus' epicenter in Wuhan.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.


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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: