China launched another rocket at 01:43 am UTC on June 23rd.
A Long March 3B rocket carried the very last BeiDou 3 into orbit, completing the constellation of satellites for China’s BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, or BDS.
The BeiDou constellation is China’s version of a navigation satellite system like GPS, Galileo, or GLONASS. This particular satellite is headed for a geostationary orbit about 36,000 kilometers (22,000 miles) above the Earth’s equator. Once in that orbit, it will follow the Earth’s rotation, which will make it appear as a stationary object from the ground.
BeiDou is the Chinese name for the Big Dipper, which can be used to find the surprisingly faint North Star (also known as Polaris). Historically, Polaris was a common reference point for navigation. So, if you’d like, think of the Big Dipper — BeiDou — showing you the way.
The launch itself was flawless, and our viewers on Twitch were treated to a rare official live stream from Chinese media that covered pre-launch activities all the way to the deployment of the solar panels after separation of the satellite from the launch vehicle.
Both Long March rockets used the pretty but deadly nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine, resulting in an ominous — and highly toxic — red-orange flame and smoke plume that could be seen right after liftoff.
China typically launches from sites well inland, so their lower stages routinely crash back to Earth — sometimes on top of buildings and personal property. This time, it doesn’t appear that any homes were damaged.
What appears to be part of the first stage landed near Tongren in Guizhou province.
Locals took pictures of the debris and shared them on Weibo, a Chinese social media network.
To the best of our knowledge, no cows were harmed during this launch.
Xinhua news article [Chinese]