China has a new communications satellite in orbit this week. The payload was launched on Friday night, and marks a new phase for China’s space program.
China’s latest satellite launch featured a return to action for the country’s most powerful rocket – the Long March 5.
Almost two and a half years ago, engine problems sent the last launch of a Long March 5 tumbling into the ocean.
Friday’s liftoff was a critical test because China has ambitious plans in space for 2020 — including a mission to Mars and progress on deploying a crewed space station by the year 2022.
The payload was another milestone for China — a new communications satellite. According to state media, the Shijian 20 weighs more than 8 tons – the country’s heaviest and most advanced satellite.
China’s Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation says the satellite will speed data transfer and communication. That includes encrypted communication — a key development for military and government purposes.
China’s latest launch and satellite deployment take place just after the formal creation of the U.S. Space Force — part of the defense spending bill signed into law earlier this month. While many details are still coming together, the Space Force will be the sixth branch of the U.S. military — under the Air Force.
As for space launches, China has had the most in the world this year – 34.
That’s seven more launches than the runner-up: The United States.