China Launches Tianlian I-03 Satellite
July 28, 2012

China Successfully Sends Off New Tianlian I-03 Satellite

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

China just keeps on keeping on with its space program, sending off its Tianlian I-03 satellite into orbit on Thursday.

The satellite launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, according to Xinhua news agency.

Tianlian I-03 flew aboard a Long March-3C carrier rocket to space, and it will be joining up with two other satellites that are already waiting for it to arrive in orbit.

The satellite will complete a system of satellites once it gets through validation and system coordination procedures. It is the third satellite in the country's first data relay satellite network, Xinhua reported.

The third satellite is expected to help improve the network's coverage by providing measurement and control services for a space station China is currently working on.

Xinhua said the satellite will offer data relay services for the medium- and low-Earth orbits as well as measurement and control support for spacecraft launches.

The two existing satellites had previously played a role in helping out China's space docking missions, according to the Chinese news agency.

China used to rely on ground stations and ships to track and control spacecraft, but these methods only allowed spacecraft to be tracked in just 15 percent of their orbit. After the country launched the first two Tialian I satellites, coverage expanded to 70 percent, according to China Daily.

Liu Jin, deputy chief designer of the Tianlian I satellite project, told China Daily that during the latest manned mission involving the Shenzhou IX spacecraft and Tiangong-1 space lab module, the satellites helped communicate between the spacecraft and Earth for more than 60 minutes in each circle. Those spacecraft take about 90 minutes to orbit the Earth.

He said having this extra time gave ground controllers more knowledge of the orbiting craft, and the three astronauts on board.

"It's crucial to China's manned space program," he told China Daily.

The Chinese space station is expected to be assembled in 2020, after which astronauts will be able to spend a longer amount of time while in orbit.

This week's satellite launch makes the 166th mission of China's Long March series of rockets.