Mon May 14, 5:09 AM ET

BEIJING - A Chinese rocket blasted a Nigerian communications satellite into orbit on Monday, marking an expansion of China's commercial launching services for foreign space hardware, state media said.

The official Xinhua News Agency said it was the first time a foreign buyer has purchased a Chinese satellite and its launching service.

The launch coincides with the opening of the African Development Bank's annual board meeting in Shanghai this week, reflecting growing African-Chinese ties.
The Nigerian Communication Satellite, or NIGCOMSAT-1, was launched by a Long March 3-B rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan province early Monday, Xinhua said.

The launch was part of a $311 million deal signed by China and Nigeria in 2004, and the satellite will be used to expand cell phone and Internet services in central Africa, Xinhua said.

China has been commissioned to send about 30 foreign satellites into space and signed several contracts offering commercial launching services for foreign satellites, including one with Venezuela, it said.

The satellite, which was developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., will be monitored and tracked by China's Great Wall Industry Corp., it said.

Xinhua said the launch represented "China's wish to cooperate with developing countries in the peaceful use of outer space and to promote a closer relationship between China and African countries."