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China completes its rival to the US GPS called BeiDou

The launch of Long March 3B Rocket, Xichang Satellite Center, China. (AAxanderr/Wikimedia Commons)
June 24, 2020

On Tuesday, China launched the final satellite it needed to establish its very own satellite navigation network to rival the U.S.-made Global Positioning System (GPS).

The launch of the final satellite on Tuesday marks the completion of China’s 30-satellite network named BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS), which now gives China a “global constellation” of navigation satellites. The BDS network is intended to act as a rival to other satellite navigation networks such as GPS, AFP reported.

The state media outlet China Central Television (CCTV) broadcast the Tuesday launch.

The BDS system will stand as a fully formed answer to the U.S. GPS, as well as Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo satellite navigation networks.

“This is a big investment from China and makes China independent of US and European systems,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics told AFP.

China launched its first-generation BeiDou-1 satellite in 1994, making it the third country in the world to establish its own satellite navigation system. The new satellite system is the third generation for BDS.

The Chinese network has been in commercial use since 2012, but only covered the Asia-Pacific region at the time. China built up its network since then and has offered worldwide service since 2018.

120 countries already use the Chinese network. Pakistan and Thailand are among the system’s users, and have implemented the navigation system to guide port traffic and rescue operations at sea.

Beijing will likely try to get other countries partnered with its Belt and Road global infrastructure project to also begin using BDS.

BDS may come to form a strong market competitor to GPS, though  McDowell told AFP he did not think it would “supplant GPS in the next 10 or even 20 years”.

The Chinese state media outlet Global Times reported the final satellite in the Chinese satellite navigation network was in flight for about an hour and a half before it successfully entered its planned orbit, in position among the other Chinese satellites.

Global Times described the network as having satellites positioned in three different orbit planes, including three satellites in Geosynchronous Orbit, three at the Geosynchronous Inclined Orbits and the remaining 24 in Medium Earth Orbit.

Global Times indicated this satellite network will allow global users to access high-accuracy navigation, positioning and timing, as well as communication services. The Chinese outlet also noted the satellites include “more accurate and stable atomic clocks” that can improve the precision of timing and navigation services.