China turns on GPS satellite, away from US dependence

Asian giant says Beidou satellite navigation system now operational and another six launches planned for next year, which will cover most of Asia-Pacific and form global network of over 30 satellites by 2020.
Written by Eileen Yu, Senior Contributing Editor

The Chinese government has announced its national Beidou satellite navigation system is now operational within China and will be part of a global network of over 30 satellites that are targeted to be in place by 2020.

In a media conference Tuesday, state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) said Beidou, which means Big Dipper, uses a network of 10 satellites currently in orbit to provide location data and SMS.

Another six launches are scheduled for next year and, when operational, will cover most of the Asia-Pacific region. These will all be part of a global system comprising over 30 satellites that are slated to be in orbit by 2020 during which, Chinese officials said, global coverage will be offered free.

CASC spokesperson Ran Cheng added that China would make the Beidou service free for all and work to ensure interoperability with the U.S. GPS system, Russian's Glonass and the upcoming EU Galileo network, which the European Space Agency said should be completed in 2019.

A first version of the interface control documentation is available online.

Cheng explained that the initial service operates on an accuracy rate of within 25 meters between 84 degrees and 160 degrees east longitude, 55 degrees south latitude and 55 degrees north latitude, at velocity accuracy of 0.8 meters per second and within 50 nanoseconds.

He said the accuracy rate will be improved to 10 meters by next year, and added about 100,000 users are currently utilizing the service.

CASC spokesperson Zhao Xiao Chun said China wants to add more satellites over the next few years to support various purposes and is targeting to have 100 in orbit under its current schedule.

Zhao revealed that China launched 19 last year, compared to the U.S. which had 18 launches while Russia had 36.

CASC also told China Daily that the system could generate 400 billion yuan (US$63 billion) by 2020 for markets offering applications for the automotive, telecommunications and other industries.

The commencement of the Chinese Beidou system marks the end of the country's reliance on U.S. satellites to provide navigation and positioning data, after it initiated a drive to do so in 2000 when it launched two experimental positioning satellites into orbit, according to news wire Reuters.

A report from The Register added that majority of the world currently use the U.S. GPS network.

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