China's GPS Rival Nears Completion With Latest Beidou Satellite Launch

Beidou Navigation System
Technicians work on a satellite in a clean room (Photo: Reuters)

China has launched the latest satellite in its array of orbital satellites poised to become a part of the country's long-planned global navigation system. The successful launch of the 20th Beidou satellite into orbit will get China a step closer into completing its own global navigation system that will rival the global positioning system (GPS) run by the United States.

The launch occurred close to midnight over the weekend at the XiChang center in southwest China. State news announced that the latest part of the Beidou constellation had successfully entered geosynchronous satellite orbit. China intends to complete its launch of a total of 32 satellites by the end of next year. Five satellites will be placed in geostationary orbit, while 27 others will be placed in medium earth orbit.

The launch of the 20th satellite is the first one for 2019, with China's National Administration of Global Navigation Satellite Systems and Applications intends to launch up to 10 more by the end of the year. The Beidou navigation system (BDS) will work very similarly to the current GPS used by most people today. However, China intends to use its own system specifically for the Asia-pacific region and areas that are covered under its Belt and Road Initiative infrastructure project.

Having their own navigation system would allow the country to be less dependent on the US-run GPS system, which should give them more control and fewer restrictions. China had been developing its own navigational system since 1994, initially revealing intentions of using it for military and civilian applications.

Late last year, China's BDS began offering basic navigation services to firms and institutions taking part in its ambitious trade and infrastructure initiative. China has also been using its almost complete global navigation system as an added incentive for countries that will join its Belt and Road initiative.

The Chinese government has reportedly begun to mobilize its different agencies to begin installing BDS equipment in various vehicles, such as cargo ships, trucks, buses, and other commercial vehicles.  According to reports, over 70 million BDS chips are already in active use. Without the rest of the satellites, China's BDS is still inferior to GPS in terms of accuracy. The country's BDS is reportedly still only accurate to about 5 meters within the Asia-Pacific region and about 10 meters globally. In contrast, the current GPS is accurate to about 30 centimeters globally. China intends to beat that number, with the completed BDS expected to be accurate up to 10 centimeters.

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