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Space Silk Road: China Establishes Basic Global Satellite PNT Coverage With Latest BeiDou Launch

An artists’ conception of China’s Beidou satellite navigation system, the backbone of the Chinese Space Silk Road. Image courtesy of www.snipview.com

China launched two BeiDou-3 satellites on 19 November 2018, and in doing so it can provide basic global satellite positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) services by the end of 2018. The basic service will first be offered to countries participating in China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and offered globally at a later date.

The launch took place on a Long March-3B rocket from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province,  according to a report in SpaceTech Asia. China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the Chinese space programme’s main contractor, announced a few hours later that the two satellites had successfully been placed in a Medium Earth Orbit (MEO).

Like all the other satellites of the MEO series, these two BeiDou-3M satellites are a twin pair. They are the 18th and 19th satellites of the 3M system, and the 42nd and 43rd satellites launched for the overall BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS). In addition to making the constellation operationally-ready, the launch today has also fulfilled China’s BeiDou launch target for 2018.

The BeiDou system includes two families of operational navigation satellites; BeiDou-2, also known as Compass, which currently includes 15 operational satellites in Geostationary Orbit (GEO), Geosynchronous Orbit (GSO), Inclined Geosynchronous Orbit (IGSO), and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO). The new BeiDou-3 series currently has only two operational MEO satellites. However, China is testing the first BeiDou-3 GEO satellite (BeiDou-3G1) and plans to launch at least four GEO and GSO satellites in 2019.

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