Beijing China announced today that it had launched a Chinese-manufactured communications satellite into orbit on behalf of Nigeria, marking the first time China has built a commercial satellite and put it into orbit on contract for another country.
The launch, in today's pre-dawn hours from the Xichang space center in southwestern Sichuan province, was viewed as another sign of China's increasing prowess in space and its determination to be among the world's great powers seeking to utilize the reaches of outer space for benefits on Earth.
Because of its military management and Beijing's recent emphasis on space-based information warfare, China's space program and its rapid progress have caused worries in the United States. The concern intensified following the successful Jan. 11 test-firing of an anti-satellite missile, which some analysts said demonstrated a risk to the many satellites on which U.S. military forces rely for navigation and weapons guidance.
But today's launch of the NIGCOMSAT-1, aboard a Long March 3B rocket, represented more of a commercial challenge. The official New China News Agency said China secured the $311 million contract in 2004 in a bidding process in which 21 other companies took part.