Beijing: China has successfully positioned in orbit a satellite, whose primary task will be to relay data from its space vehicles. The data relay satellite, Tianlian-I, was positioned at E 77 degrees over the equator at 4:25 pm on Thursday.
The satellite was launched on 25 April on a Long March-3C carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in the southwest Sichuan province. Since then, the satellite has carried out a series of programmes, including the unfolding of its solar sail, the ignition of its engine and the changing of its position on four occasions.
Tianlian-1, also known as Tian Lian 1 and TL-1, is a spacecraft tracking and data relay communications satellite, similar in function to the American Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS).
China's space agency said the successful positioning of the satellite will result in increased coverage of the country's space measuring network, timely transmission of space data and will also reduce risks of future space missions.
It will be used to track and communicate with manned Shenzhou spacecraft in low Earth orbit. The satellite is slated to go into operation only after the launch of the Shenzhou-VII manned space mission, which is scheduled for the second half of 2008.
The satellite, developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, is aimed at increasing the communication time of the Shenzhou-VII rocket with ground control, and also to improve the amount of data that can be transferred.
The space agency said that the Yuanwang space tracking ships, along with more than 10 ground observation stations, can only cover 12 per cent of the Shenzhou VII spaceship's space orbit. With the help of the Tianlian I satellite more than 50 per cent of the orbit of Shenzhou VII or any other Chinese spacecraft can now be covered.
With the help of the satellite, scientists can now collect more data and identify a malfunction taking place in a spacecraft earlier. The agency said the satellite also improves the efficiency of ground control command, and in carrying out problem analysis and space rescue.
The launch was the 105th mission of China's Long March series of rockets, and the first mission of the Long March-3C carrier rocket. The 55-metre carrier rocket with two boosters is capable of launching satellites weighing between 2,600 kilograms to 3,800 kg into space.
Seven Long March-3C carrier rockets are currently in production and will carry several domestic and foreign satellites into space, the agency said.
China has planned ten space launches this year, including the manned Shenzhou-VII mission. China began its manned space programme in 1999 and successfully sent its first astronaut, Yang Liwei, into orbit on the Shenzhou-V spacecraft in 2003. Two years later, another two astronauts completed a five-day flight on the Shenzhou-VI.