It is getting harder to get lost. China has joined the U.S. and Russia in running a satellite navigation system of its own. Beidou‘s Compass has started operation following the launch of its tenth satellite earlier this month, with coverage of China and surrounding areas accurate to within 10 meters for civilians, better for the PLA. Six further planned satellite launches will provide Asia/Pacific regional coverage next year. Global coverage will take until 2020, by when Beidou will have at least 30 satellites aloft. That is a year after the EU plans to deploy its system.
Beidou is run by China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp., the military-backed, state owned defence manufacturer that is the leading contractor for China’s space program. The system is being promoted as the underpinning of a potential 400 billion yuan civilian business providing navigation, positioning and timing services for industries ranging from car making to logistics, sports and fisheries. It also weans the PLA from dependence on foreign, and particularly the U.S.’s Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, for missile targeting and other military navigation.
Footnote: December’s launch was China’s 16th space launch of the year, passing the record set in 2010. By comparison, the U.S. had 18 launches this year and Russia 26. China and the U.S. had one failure apiece, Russia three.