China: Aiming high
The satellite, Beidou, was carried by a Long March 3-A rocket from the Xichang launch centre in China's southwestern province of Sichuan at 12:34 am on Sunday (1634 GMT Saturday), a local news agency said.
   
The system would offer navigation and positioning services for sectors such as transportation, meteorology, petroleum production, forest fire prevention, disaster forecast, telecommunications and public security. It would serve as a "radio beacon in outer space".

 

The launch marks the 70th flight for China's Long March series of rockets and the 28th consecutive successful launch for the series since October 1996. 
    
Both the satellite and carrier rocket were developed by the Chinese Research Institute of Space Technology and China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which are under the China Space Science and Technology Group.

 

Military uses

 

Reacting to the launch, Taiwan said the satellites launched by China might have military applications. Taiwan, which has a running feud with China, closely monitors its neighbour’s space programme.

 

The Beidou satellite's navigation system is capable of improving the accuracy of Chinese missiles.

 

According to reports, China has been attempting to build a satellite navigation system accurate enough to be incorporated into precision munitions. This would be similar to the smart weaponry used by the United States in its recent military forays.

 

Man in space

 

Beijing is trying hard  to emerge as a space superpower. Sunday's launch is part of this effort.

 

Another major project, Shenzhou V, will be its first manned space flight. This is expected in the second half of 2003. 

 

China has so far launched four unmanned spaceflights, the last of which, Shenzhou IV, returned to earth in January this year after 162 hours in orbit. It was considered the final dress rehearsal before a manned mission. 

 

If this turns out successful, China will be the third to send a man into space after the erstwhile Soviet Union and the US.