Last third-gen Beidou satellite fired into orbit

The final satellite to complete the third-generation network of China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System was launched on Tuesday morning, marking a new milestone in the nation’s space endeavors.

As the countdown ticked to zero — 9:43 am — at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, eight engines on the first stage and four boosters of a Long March 3B carrier rocket spat orange flame as they lifted the 19-story vehicle and satellite into cloudy skies.

The launch marked the completion of the in-orbit construction of Beidou, the country’s largest space-based system and one of four global navigation networks, along with the United States’ GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo.

Some medical workers from across Sichuan province who have fought against the COVID-19 were invited by space authorities to witness the landmark launch mission at the center.

The launch was broadcast live by China Central Television, the national broadcaster, becoming the first Beidou mission to go live on TV and also the first televised launch at the Xichang center in a decade.

After a period of in-orbit tests, the new satellite will start formal operations and work with other Beidou satellites, allowing users around the globe to access high-accuracy navigation, positioning and timing services according to the China Satellite Navigation Office.

The spacecraft, which was transported by rail to the Xichang center on April 4, was designed and made by the China Academy of Space Technology, a subsidiary of State-owned space conglomerate China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. Based on the DFH-3B satellite platform, it is designed to work in orbit for at least 12 years.