BEIJING – China blasted off a new data relay satellite, Tianlian I-02, on Monday at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwestern Sichuan province.
The new satellite will bolster the country’s satellite communication network for space docking.
The satellite was launched on a Long March-3C carrier rocket at 11:41 pm, sources at the center told Xinhua News Agency.
The satellite separated from the rocket 26 minutes after its launch and was then successfully delivered into a geostationary transfer orbit, the report said.
Developed by the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, the satellite is the country’s second data relay satellite. The first, Tianlian I-01, was launched in Xichang on April 25, 2008.
The two satellites will form a network to bolster communications between China’s spacecraft and bases on Earth, according to the center.
They will also be used to help the nation’s first space docking, scheduled for the second half of this year.
As planned, China will launch space module Tiangong-1, which was designed as a platform that will dock with an unmanned spaceship, Shenzhou VIII, for the country’s first space-docking mission later this year.
Two more Shenzhou spaceships will dock with Tiangong-1 next year, and one will be manned by two or three astronauts, according to the China Manned Space Engineering Office, which was the main user of the Tianlian I series data relay satellites.
“The launch of the satellite is of great significance to improve the efficiency of tracking and commanding spaceships,” Pang Zhihao, a researcher and deputy editor-in-chief of the magazine Space International, told China Daily on Tuesday.
Pang said the new satellite could cover a greater area to track and command the country’s space vehicles in low-Earth orbits, such as manned spacecraft and remote sensing satellites, from a higher position in outer space.
“Only three satellites of this kind are needed to form a global communication network, and China has two now,” he said.
The satellite could also facilitate real-time communications with the astronauts, which will benefit the country’s future manned space flights, he said.
The world’s first data relay satellite was launched by the United States in 1983. The US now has six such satellites.
Source: China Daily