Friday, April 25, 2008

At 15:35 UTC this afternoon (23:35 local time), the Chinese Long March 3C (CZ-3C) carrier rocket lifted off on its maiden flight, from launch pad 2 at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre. It placed the Tianlian-1 satellite into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. Tianlian-1, also known as Tian Lian 1 and TL-1, a spacecraft tracking and data relay communications satellite, similar in function to the American Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS), will be used to track and communicate with manned Shenzhou spacecraft in low Earth orbit. It will be able to cover around half of the spacecraft’s trajectory, compared to the 12 percent which can be covered by China’s fleet of tracking ships and ground stations. The next Shenzhou mission, Shenzhou 7, is currently scheduled for launch in October. Tianlian-1 is based on the DFH-3 satellite bus.

This is the 19th orbital launch of 2008, and the first this year to be conducted by the People’s Republic of China. It is currently believed that China intend to conduct one more launch before the end of April, however due to secrecy surrounding China’s space programme, it is difficult to be certain of this.

The Long March 3C is a new version of the Long March 3 rocket, which serves as an intermediate between the Long March 3A, and the Long March 3B. It is 55 metres tall, and can place a 3,700 kilogram payload into a geosynchronous transfer orbit.