Chinese rival GPS system Beidou now offering navigation data

Chinese officials have announced that the country’s satellite navigation system is now operational. The Beidou system is now offering location, navigation and timing data to the country and surrounding areas, declared project spokesman Ran Cheng.

The communist country has been developing the system since 2000 in order to provide alternatives to the American government-run Global Positioning System (GPS). The new development should make the Chinese military depend much less on foreign technology.

A launch this month put the tenth Beidou satellites into orbit. Beijing is due to send another six satellites into space before 2012 to expand the system to other parts of Asia, putting the network at 35 satellites and offering worldwide coverage by 2020.

Interested groups are welcome to analyse a test version of the Chinese project’s Interface Control Document, which is now available online. Beidou, which in English translates to “Big Dipper”, offers civilian users global positioning information accurate to the nearest ten metres.

It also promises to measure velocities within 0.2 metres per second and give clock synchronisation signals correct to 0.02 millionths of a second. The country’s military will have access to more accurate data.

A study by Geoffrey Forden, a GIS expert at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said that Beidou could be utilised to target missile attacks against Taiwan in the case of a territorial dispute. Having its own global positioning system would shield China against the dangers that the USA would turn their GPS off.

This year’s report for the website suggested that the network may also be utilised for guiding drone attacks against foreign navy forces if China were to ever come under attack. But Beidou’s developers have stressed civilian and day-to-day benefits for the general public.

The group has said that the system could generate a 400 billion yuan (£40.4bn) market in similar applications for the fishing, automobile and telecommunications industries by 2020. The system is also compatible with other global navigation systems, noted Mr Ran.

Beyond the American GPS network, Russia operates the Glonass system, which recently launched several satellites to cover gaps in the system. The EU is also creating its own system, the Galileo, which became operational in October. The European Space Agency announced that the network should be finished in 2019.

Meanwhile, military developer Lockheed Martin will continue working to upgrade America’s system to GPS III. The defense firm has started developing a model next-generation satellite at a facility near Denver.





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