China blasted into space its final satellite on Tuesday, in its homegrown geolocation system designed to compete with the US global positioning system network, marking a crucial step in self-reliance and its pursuit for lucrative market share.
State broadcaster CCTV's video of the launch in the southwestern province of Sichuan showed the rocket ignited against a backdrop of lush mountains as a small group of onlookers filmed the spectacle on their cameras.
The launch of the Beidou-3GEO3 satellite from China's Xichang Satellite Launch Center was initially set for last Tuesday but was held back over unspecified technical issues, the country's space agency disclosed.
The launch will now allow China to no longer rely on the GPS that is owned by the US government. The $10 billion network consists of 35 satellites and provides coverage of global navigation. It comes as frictions over the coronavirus, trade and Hong Kong are rising between Beijing and Washington.
China's third version of the Beidou Navigation Satellite System offers an alternative to Russia's Glonass and the European Galileo systems, as well as the US GPS. Future launch plans promise to support a more accessible and integrated infrastructure expected to be operational by 2035 with BDS at the core.
The launch of the Beidou family's 55th satellite shows China's determination to establish global coverage that has been widely successful, the system's chief designer Yang Changfeng disclosed to CCTV.
Over the past 20 years, China's space program has grown quickly as the government devotes significant resources to developing independent, high-tech capabilities - and even dominating in fields such as fifth-generation data processing.
In the 1990s China started to develop its Beidou satellite program, with the first satellite launch in October 2000. A lengthy system upgrade started in 2009, Xinhua said last month in a paper.
The latest iteration, called BDS-3, consists of 30 satellites for applications ranging from high-precision positioning to communication with short messages. Ahead of this new launch the BDS-3 network had 29 working satellites.
The completion of China's BDS-3 network comes as the US buckles down to modernize its own GPS satellite. The ongoing global health crisis has postponed a planned April launch of the next GPS III satellite mission to June 30. The upgrade to the American GPS III network, an improvement over its predecessor to GPS II, is due to be completed by 2023.
China's successful Beidou launch marked the second space mission in a span of seven days for the country. China launched its third Gaofen-9 Earth observation satellite into orbit on June 17, from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in the Gobi Desert.