China’s plans to upgrade its Beidou Navigation Satellite system

Recently, it was announced that China will launch another eleven satellites in 2018 to add to its third-generation Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS).

Launched in 1994, the Beidou project began to serve China in 2000. Since 2000, 33 satellites have been launched for the network. Beidou began serving users in the Asia-Pacific region in December 2012. It is the world’s fourth navigation satellite system, following GPS in the United States, GLONASS in Russia and Galileo in the European Union.

According to Mr Wang Li, Chairman of China Satellite Navigation System Committee, the country has already launched eight Beidou-3 satellites. The satellites will provide initial services for countries and regions along the Belt and Road by the end of the year.

Addressing the 9th China Satellite Navigation Conference in Harbin, capital of Northeast China’s Heilongjiang province, Mr Wang said the Beidou system is moving to become a global service provider after offering stable and reliable time and space information for clients in the Asia-Pacific region.

Compared to earlier generation satellites, the Beidou-3 is able to send signals that are more compatible with other satellite navigation systems and provide satellite-based augmentation, as well as search and rescue services in accordance with international standards. Its positioning accuracy has reached 2.5 to 5 meters.

Mr Wang also added that the Beidou system will also coordinate with other technologies, such as remote sensing, internet, big data and cloud computing, in the future.

Before year’s end, China plans to send 10 third-generation Beidou satellites to medium Earth orbit and another one to geostationary orbit.

In 2019 and 2020, China will send six third-generation Beidou satellites into medium Earth orbits, as well as three to inclined geosynchronous satellite orbits and two to geostationary orbits.

By 2020, the Beidou satellites will form a complete global satellite navigation system, with 35 satellites. It is the world’s fourth navigation satellite system, following GPS in the United States, GLONASS in Russia and Galileo in the European Union.

At the same time, it was also reported that accuracy of the Beidou system is improving.

According to Mr Ran Chengqi, Director of the China Satellite Navigation Office, at the 9th China Satellite Navigation Conference, eight orbiting satellites have formed the initial network of Beidou’s third-generation satellites.

Compared with second-generation satellites, the new model features clearer navigation signals, better stability and extra applications such as an intersatellite link and global emergency search capabilities.

At the conference, Mr Yang Changfeng, Beidou’s Chief Designer said that Beidou’s ground-based augmentation network is complete and is midway through a trial run. The network will enable Beidou to provide centimeter-level accuracy in navigation and positioning, he said.

Moving forward, China is planning to build high-precision positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) system with Beidou system by 2035.

It was also reported that China has officially started piloting the certification of products and services connected to its Beidou Navigation Satellite System, according to reports by the Economic Information Daily.

Authorities say the certification work will promote the development of the satellite navigation industry in China. Certification work will first cover products such as chips, modules, antenna and receivers. This will eventually lead to a set of standards being developed for products connected to Beidou.

The Economic Information Daily report suggests the high-tech industry surrounding Beidou is developing rapidly. It says that there are roughly 14,000 companies working in connection with satellite navigation and services, and the total output of the sector is expected to break 300 billion yuan (around US$47 billion) this year.

Currently, the Beidou system is used for public security, transportation, fisheries, power supplies, forestry and disaster relief in China. Users of the system include 33,500 taxis and 21,000 buses in Beijing, and 40,000 fishing boats off the country’s coast are equipped with terminals of the Beidou system.

In last November, the Chinese Ministry of Transport also announced that the Beidou system joined a global rescue data network that collects and distributes data for search and rescue missions. Beidou is now a part of the International Cospas-Sarsat Program, a nonprofit, intergovernmental and humanitarian cooperative with 44 members.

Credit: The International Cospas-Sarsat Program

The International Cospas-Sarsat Program is a satellite-based search and rescue distress alert detection and information distribution system best known for detecting and locating emergency beacons activated by aircraft, ships and hikers in distress.

The inclusion comes after a ministry delegation submitted the Chinese system’s technology and launch plan for search and rescue to the program during the 31st Cospas-Sarsat Council meeting in late October in Montreal, Canada.

“The move will enhance Beidou’s global capability to search for and rescue people in distress, showing China has carried out its responsibilities in global humanitarianism in accordance with international conventions,” Mr Wu Chungeng, a spokesman of the Ministry.

“It also supports Beidou’s global development, promoting the system’s international influence and power in the field of satellite navigation,” he added.

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