Tag Archives: Beidou

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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Positioning For The Future

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.

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