Satellite launch delayed for technical reasons

A key launch mission for China’s Beidou Navigation Satellite System was postponed on Tuesday to give engineers more time to ensure its complete success, said a rocket designer involved in the mission.

The designer, who wished not to be named, said that space missions are characterized by their unexpected factors and technical risks, so it is not uncommon for such events to be postponed by space authorities around the world.

“For us, our ultimate goal is to make sure that each and every launch is successful. It is a fundamental principle that we will never pump fuel into a rocket if there are technical uncertainties,” he said on Tuesday afternoon. “Therefore, we decided to postpone the launch after careful deliberation.”

The mission was scheduled to take place at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province on Tuesday morning to transport the final satellite in the third-generation network of Beidou to a geostationary orbit.

However, the mission command announced several hours before ignition that the mission was being postponed due to “technical problems with products” on the Long March 3B carrier rocket that will be used to lift the satellite, the 59th in the Beidou family and 30th in the third-generation series.

The new date for the launch has yet to be decided, it said.

The insider explained that a technical issue emerged on Monday night when engineers conducted the final checks on the rocket in accordance with due procedures. He said that the launch vehicle is still in good condition, and engineers are capable of solving the problem.

Space expert Huang Zhicheng was quoted by Global Times as saying that a carrier rocket is a sophisticated system composed of many parts, so it is inevitable for minor problems to occur during the transportation and prelaunch processes.

If such problems are not properly handled, they could affect the whole launch mission, he added.

The satellite to be lifted will work with other Beidou satellites to allow users around the globe to access high-accuracy navigation, positioning and timing services, according to the China Satellite Navigation Office.

Its launch will mark the completion of the Beidou network, China’s largest space-based system and one of the four global navigation networks, along with the United States’ GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo.

Since 2000, when the first Beidou satellite entered orbit, 58 satellites, including the first four experimental ones, have been launched. Some have since been retired.

Beidou began providing positioning, navigation, timing and messaging services to civilian users in China and other parts of the Asia-Pacific region in December 2012. At the end of 2018, Beidou started to provide global services.