One Planet, Four Systems

A TECHNOLOGICALLY DECOUPLED world of Chinese and US standards and systems has moved a step nearer, or at least a satellite launch nearer. China has sent up the final BeiDou satellite (see above) needed to complete its orbital navigation constellation, which will provide a rival to the US global positioning system, GPS, the EU’s Galileo and Russia’s GLONASS.

The BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) is designed to meet the needs of the country’s economic and national security goals. The project was conceived in the 1980s, and the first satellite launch dates back to 2000. There are now 27 satellites in medium Earth orbit, five in geostationary orbit and three more in inclined geosynchronous orbits.

With the system’s completion will come a wide range of applications for communications, fishing, hydrological monitoring, weather forecasting, surveying, mapping and geographic information, forest fire-prevention, time synchronization, disaster mitigation and relief and emergency search and rescue.

As well as the immense commercial value of such services (albeit it, no doubt, with rows to come about Beijing’s access to the data that flows through them), BDS gives Beijing military independence from the United States for a critical piece of space infrastructure.

It will take some time for the People’s Liberation Army to integrate BDS into its forces on the ground and its long-range conventional missile systems. The United States has 30 years of experience of using GPS in combat that the PLA will have to catch up on.

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