CHINA> Backgrounder
China's satellite launch centers
Updated: 2008-09-23 16:29

BEIJING -- There are three major space launch bases in China: Jiuquan, Taiyuan and Xichang. All three are located in sparsely populated areas with flat terrain and broad field of vision.

Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center

Founded in 1958 in Gansu Province, the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center was the country's earliest base and where most launches and tests have been conducted.

It is huge -- about 2,800 square kilometers -- and the climate means that around 300 days each year are suitable for launches. The center is mainly used to send satellites into lower and medium orbits with large orbital inclination angles. It is also capable of testing medium- and long-range missiles. Many groundbreaking launches have been made at Jiuquan.

Jiuquan, a small town on north China's deserts, caught worldwide attention in 1970 when China launched its first satellite, and has since developed into a space city with a population of dozens of thousands.

Now, Jiuquan is known as the starting point of China's "Space Long March".

To visitors' surprise, in the town, local residents enjoy a modern life as convenient as those who live in other parts of the country.

In addition to schools, cinemas, sports facilities, restaurants, beauty parlors and shops, there are telephone, TV and Internet services in the city. Visitors can buy souvenirs like the miniature models of rocket carriers and spacecraft.

The town is full of clues that give hints to visitors where they are. One may come up with a street called "Road Space", a hotel with the name of "Sky Flying", and street lamps in the shape of a rocket.

Visitors may also spot numerous pictures of top scientists for China's programs of strategic weapons and space technology.

Only army barracks, the residence of Chinese astronauts and other places guarded by soldiers give a sense of secrecy to outsiders, reminding them that they have come into a place that is different to others.

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, which was built up in 1958,is the only site to project manned vehicles in the country. So far, it has witnessed the launching of 37 satellites and five spacecraft. It is where China launched the first Chinese-made missile, satellite, long-range rocket carrier, rocket carrying three satellites, unmanned spacecraft and manned spacecraft.

At the launch site, there is a workshop where two 58.3 meter-tall Long-March rocket carriers can be assembled at one time. There are two special rails that lead to the launch pad 1,500 meters afar.

The launch site also serves as the first emergency escape area for astronauts and the standby return site for spacecraft, when the main landing site encounters winds at a speed of 15 meters or more per second, or other factors that may prevent aircraft and vehicles from moving to search for returned spacecraft and astronauts.

The search task force at the standby site is composed of four helicopters, three special ambulances and passenger vehicles for astronauts, and a medical team.

If the spacecraft lands in the other parts of the country, aircraft and a parachute squad will be sent for the search. Once the target is found, a large transport plane will fly to an airport close to the target, with three special vehicles of the rescuers aboard.

Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center

The Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, situated in Kelan County of north China's Shanxi Province, was founded in March 1966 and came into full operation in 1968.

Surrounded by mountains, Taiyuan stands at an elevation of 1,500 meters. Its dry weather makes it ideal for launching solar-synchronous satellites. It has launched a variety of satellites, including weather, resource and communication satellites into geostationary and other orbits.

Xichang Satellite Launch Center

Located in the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture of southwest China's Sichuan Province, the Xichang Satellite Launch Center is designed mainly to launch powerful thrust rockets and geostationary satellites. Known for its agreeable weather and picturesque scenes, most pictures shown on Chinese television of rockets taking off are shot here.

Established in 1970, its headquarters are located 60 kilometers northwest of Xichang City, in Sichuan Province. The ideal time for launching satellites from Xichang is from October to May.

The center was completed in 1983 and started operating the following year. Since that time it has launched China's first experimental communications satellite, first operational communications satellite, and first combined communications and broadcast satellite.

Xichang has two launch pads: one for the launch of geostationary communications satellites and meteorological satellites by Long March CZ-3 rockets and the other for the lift-off of Long March CZ-2 strap-on launch vehicle and the Long March CZ-3 series rockets.