China launches own GPS-like network

December 27, 2011

China launches own GPS-like networkChina has launched ten satellites that will make up a geo-positioning network designed as an alternative to GPS. While compatible with existing technology, Beidou is intended to make sure China isn’t reliant on foreign systems.

The new system currently provides coverage in China itself. The timetable is for another six satellites next year to extend that across most of Asia, with the system expanding to 35 satellites by 2020 to offer global coverage.

The first Chinese satellite designed for operation rather than testing went up in 2007; today’s announcement is simply that the network is now operational and providing positioning details.

Beidou, which very roughly translates as “Big Dipper” is not as accurate as GPS, offering location tracking to within 10 meters compared with within 10 feet on existing GPS. Indeed, a planned upgrade to GPS will get that range down to three feet. As with GPS, Beidou can also track speed of movement and give ultra-accurate time signals.

China has published details of the technical specifications behind the new system and says it will be interoperable with other systems worldwide, including both the US-operated GPS andRussia’s Glonass network. Both Chinese and foreign companies will be able to access the Beidou technology and officials forecast a 400 billion yuan (approx $60 billion) market for applications that use it.

The real fear for Western governments will be that the new network strengthens the Chinese military. There are suggestions that if a local war broke out, China could use geo-positioning to guide missiles, and the last resort option of switch GPS coverage off would no longer be effective.

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One Response to “China launches own GPS-like network”

  1. Mr X:

    First, GPS units avaible to the civilian market, which must be made under very stringent DoD mandated requirements, will shut down if they sense their altitude about 11 miles and or speeds faster than 1150mph. This excludes them from missile usage, or even jet fighter use. I suppose you could put them on cruise missles, but like you said, if a conflict or war broke out, GPS service would be shut off for that region anyway.
    Secondly, the current GPS available to the civilian sector is actually only precise to 20 meters. GPS that is differential, augmented, or assisted, can exceed precision of 20 meters, but an old unit will only be precise to 20 meters. But as you said, the next phase will allow more precision to be available to civilians.

    In any case, why shouldn’t they build their own SatNav system? I never understood where we get off telling other countries what they can or cannot build.

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