The 23rd launch by China this year put two more navigation satellites into orbit. With this China has put the 35th and 36th satellite of the system developed by the Innovation Academy for Microsatellites of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The system christened the Beidou system is a GPS precision timing and navigation system which has witnessed launches of satellites since the year 2000.
The satellites were put into orbit by a Long March 3B that lifted off with textbook precision from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China. The China Aerospace and Technology Corporation (CASC) announced that the launch was successful putting both the satellites into direct medium Earth orbits at an altitude of around 22,000 kilometers altitude. Accordingly the airspace was closed in certain locations directly in the trajectory of the Long March and pre determined booster wreckage zones, which were later found to the southeast of the launch area.
The ambitious plan of China is to place in system 35 satellites before the end of 2020. The end uses of the system include navigation, in addition to tactical military use for the Chinese PLA. The military applications will include guidance of weapons and targeting of weapons which used to rely on GPS earlier. This Beidou system is intended to provide global GNSS coverage which will replace the GPS systems and is planned to be achieved with a constellation of 27 satellites placed in medium Earth orbits, while five will be in geostationary orbit and the remaining three will be in inclined geosynchronous orbits.
The launches are an indication of China’s resolve to acquire greater capabilities in space and technology. However, despite the apparently large number of launches, there is still more to be done on the space technology front for China to rival the superpowers. Brian Weeden, Director, Program Planning at Secure World Foundation, remarked that the number of launches were not a benchmark of mastery of space technology. The results from the launches is what mattered. Major superpowers already have their space constellations in place and the large number of launches by China is more towards building the capabilities of rival powers.