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.
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:
November 5, 1960: launch of China's first surface-to-surface missile.
October 27, 1966: the country's first guided nuclear missile test.
April 24, 1970: launch of the first Chinese-made earth satellite.
November 26, 1975: launch of China's first recoverable satellite.
May 18, 1980: launch of the first Chinese long-distance carrier rocket.
August 1987: launching services for European aerospace manufacturer Aerospatiale Matra -- China's first involvement in the international space industry.
By 1998, 33 satellites had been launched from Jiuquan with a 100 percent success rate. The site has launched more than 1,000 missiles and rockets.
November 20, 1999: first launch of the experimental Shenzhou spacecraft (the re-entry module landed in central Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region the next day).
January 10, 2001: launch of Shenzhou-2 experimental spacecraft (re-entry capsule returns to earth six days later in central Inner Mongolia with the results of scientific experiments).
March 25, 2002: unmanned Shenzhou-3 sent into orbit and, after circling the earth 108 times, the craft returned on April 1.
December 30, 2002: launch of another unmanned spacecraft, Shenzhou-4.
October 15, 2003: launch of "Long March 2 F" rocket that sent China's first astronaut Yang Liwei into space in "Shenzhou-5". The next day, after orbiting the earth 14 times, the Yang touched down in central Inner Mongolia. This breakthrough made China the third country in the world capable of independent manned space travel.
September 27, 2004: launch of China's 20th recoverable satellite for scientific and technological experiments.
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.
December 1968: launch of China's first medium-range rocket.
By 1988, it had launched more than 70 carrier rockets of different kinds, from medium- to long-range.
September 7, 1988: the first Fengyun satellite sent into geostationary orbit, followed by a second on December 3, 1990.
The Taiyuan Launching Center also engages in commercial launches for overseas clients. The first international commercial launch was on December 8, 1997, when it successfully sent into orbit two iridium satellites made by the American company Motorola.
By 1999 ten iridium satellites had been launched from the center for foreign corporations.
May 10, 1999: launch of March 4th II carrier rocket carrying one weather satellite and one experimental satellite (the center's seventh successful launch of two satellites on one rocket in a row).
May 15, 2002: launch of HY-1A, China's first marine satellite.
September 16, 2003: launch of China's first four-stage solid-fuel carrier rocket "Pioneer I". This rocket can send a variety of small satellites of up to 100-kg into space within 12 hours.
October 21, 2003: launch of Long March IV B carrier rocket, carrying an earth resources satellite jointly developed with Brazil and a China-made Chuangxin I (Innovation I) into orbit.
July 25, 2004: launch of Probe No. 2, the second satellite of a Sino-European joint space probe program, known as the Double Star Project.
September 9, 2004: launch of two scientific experiment satellites atop a Long March 4-B rocket carrier. With a designed life of at least two years, these satellites will be used to probe space radiation and its effects as well as other related experiments.
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.
In 1990 it successfully launched the "Asia Sat 1" communications satellite into geosynchronous earth orbit.
July 16, 1990: launch of China's first Long March CZ-2 strap-on launch vehicle, sending a Pakistani experimental satellite and a Chinese satellite into orbit.
May 12, 1997: launch of China Sat-6, a geosynchronous telecommunications satellite with DFH-3 platform designed and manufactured by China Aerospace Industry Corporation.
May 25, 2003: China's third Beidou navigation and positioning satellite put into orbit. China sent the first two Beidou navigation satellites into orbit on Oct. 31 and Dec. 21 of 2000.
November 15, 2003: launch of the China-made Zhongxing-20 satellite. Weighing 2.3 tons, it is a geostationary communications satellite designed by the China Academy of Space Technology under the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp. The launch was the 73rd by the country's Long March carrier rockets since 1970, and the 32nd consecutive successful launch since October 1996.
Sino-European space cooperation took a major step forward on December 30, 2003, with the launch of the first of two "Double Star" scientific satellites at Xichang. The satellite, Probe-1 or TC-1, was sent into its preset elliptical orbit ranging between 555 kilometers and 78,051 kilometers, making it the farthest operational spacecraft China has ever catapulted into space.
"Experimental Satellite I", a minisat weighing 204 kilograms, blasted off into space at 11:59 PM, April 18, 2004 aboard a Long March 2C rocket from Xichang. Another microsat, the 25-kilogram "Nano-satellite I", was launched piggyback-style on the rocket. The event marked China's most important breakthrough in the development of small satellites.
(China.org.cn October 18, 2004)