Jade Rabbit lunar rover

Loss of Brazil satellite deals setback to China space ambitions

Earth-observation unit built by China and Brazil fails to reach orbit after rocket malfunctions

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 December, 2013, 5:15am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 December, 2013, 10:31am

An earth-observation satellite developed jointly by China and Brazil failed to reach orbit yesterday after its rocket malfunctioned on ascent, dealing a setback to China's ambitious space programme.

The Long March 4B rocket blasted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in Shanxi province at 11.25am, but malfunctioned on its way through the atmosphere, Xinhua reported. It marked the first launch failure of the 4B since the model entered service in 1999.

Chinese and Brazilian experts were still analysing the cause of the failure, Xinhua reported, without elaborating.

The last time a Long March model malfunctioned was in August 2011, when a 2C rocket failed while carrying a military satellite into space.

The failure came at the same time the country was preparing to land its first lunar rover on the moon. The rover - Yutu, or Jade Rabbit - was launched last week and is due to land on the moon on Saturday.

The China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS) - the fourth in a series of satellites - has been classified as lost.

Brazil's National Institute for Space Research said in a statement last night that "there was a failure of the launcher during the flight and consequently the satellite was not positioned in the planned orbit".

"Preliminary evaluations suggest that the CBERS-3 returned to earth," it said.

Brazilian news reports said the satellite was equipped with high-resolution cameras capable of significantly improving scientists' ability to chart the deforestation of the Amazon, the world's largest tropical rainforest. The two countries split equally its US$250 million cost.

The Sino-Brazilian team was still "confident about future co-operation" between the two countries, Xinhua said. The pair first set up a satellite venture in 1996 to help Brazil monitor its forests, oceans and agricultural production, as well as for commercial use. The first three satellites, which were launched starting in 1999, are no longer functioning.

Professor Jiao Weixin , of Peking University's School of Earth and Space Sciences, said the failure would not dampen the country's ambitions for its space programme, particularly in regards to the lunar probe.

China sees its space programme as a symbol of its growing international clout and technological advancement, as well as the Communist Party's success in reversing the fortunes of the once impoverished nation. It aims to establish a permanent space station by 2020 and eventually send an astronaut to the moon.

The country is also looking to increase its share of the global commercial satellite-launching business, targeting a 15 per cent share by 2020, from around 3 per cent currently.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse