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China satellite launch completes Beidou 3 ahead of GPS assault

It might have taken 20 years, but China has welcomed itself to the space era with the launch of the final networking satellite to complete the Beidou 3 constellation.

While some might suggest there are more nefarious means to the global network of satellites, China has stated it is an alternative to existing GPS systems. As it stands, China has been reliant on the US government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS), though Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo are other options.

The launch today (June 23) is the 58th and final networking satellite to find its way to the stars for the third phase of the service. The first phase, started in 2000, was an experimental regional navigation system, before the second phase launched an additional 35 assets from 2012 to provide navigation, positioning and timing data for the South East Asia region. The final phase, which this launch completes, added an additional 24 satellites to the sky. 35 satellites are still in operation.

Although this launch was a week late, owing to technical issues on the original launch date, the network is actually complete six months ahead of schedule.

With tensions growing between the US and China, the completion of this network of satellites, and the launch of its own GPS, has come at a very opportune moment in time. China is reliant on the US in some key areas, offering opportunity for the disruptive White House to be a thorn in the paw, but this is one avenue which has now been closed off.

Global satellite systems
Name Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) Global Positioning System (GPS) Galileo Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS)
Origin China US Europe Russia
First launch 2000 1978 2011 1982
Number of active satellites 35 33 30 24
Accuracy 360-10cm 500–30cm 100-1cm 738-280cm

Although there are some who would look at this service with a level of suspicion, the Chinese National Space Agency has claimed more than half the world’s countries have begun to use the Beidou system.

“China Beidou serves the world and benefits mankind,” said Yang Changfeng, the chief designer.

The agency has also said that by 2035 there are plans to build and deploy a more ubiquitous, integrated and intelligent global positioning navigation time service system. Reports have also suggested that 70% of Chinese smartphones already support Beidou, while the Government has insisted any vehicle transporting dangerous materials (whatever that means) should also be available to the system.


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