China’s Beidou satnav system launches 18th, 19th satellites

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Xinhua/Zhu Zheng.
Beidou Satellite launch

Beidou Satellite launch

SINCE THE LAUNCH of its first satellite in 2000, the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) has been moving towards achieving global positioning and navigation coverage. On 25 July 2015, the launch of two new-generation satellites brought Beidou closer to this goal.

They join 17 satellites already in orbit, which brings the BDS total to 19. According to Xie Jun, the chief engineer of the BDS, the 18th and 19th satellites are indicative of the global expansion of BDS. The ultimate goal is to establish a network of 35 satellites with global coverage by 2020. This recent satellite launch therefore marks a development in the BDS that has implications for domestic users and the existing global navigation services.

BDS provides a domestic navigation service that offers timing, navigation, and short message services to users in China and the Asia-Pacific region. If Beidou achieves global coverage it will be one of the four big global navigation players, alongside the US-operated GPS, the EU’s Galileo, and Russia’s Glonass. BDS acts as an alternative to the American system, which reduces China’s dependence on GPS and increases its autonomy in military operations. Moreover, BDS is unique amongst its competitors as it is the only navigation service to offer messaging.

In addition to its military and telecommunications capabilities, BDS is used for weather forecasting, forestry, marine fishing, transportation, hydrologic monitoring, geodetic surveys, intelligent driving tests, mobile phone navigation, and vehicle navigation.  The open service is freely available for anyone in range to benefit their professional or personal lives, whilst the licenced service is utilised by the Chinese government and military.

At a recent seminar on BDS and aviation, Wu Chengchang, safety chief of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), spoke of plans to use BDS to trace civilian flights. Wu stated that CAAC will test BDS with general flights before they “gradually apply the BDS to transport aviation”. The tracking capabilities of BDS could be instrumental in search and rescue missions, helping to avoid mysterious disappearances such as that of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 which disappeared on 8 March 2014 with 239 people on board.

The most recent satellite launch makes it clear that China is serious about the expansion of BDS from a regional to a worldwide service. This will open up opportunities for BDS users ,as well as offering a valid alternative to the widely used GPS system.

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