Beidou, China’s two decades-long global navigation satellite system project, is complete. The Long March 3B rocket carrying the final satellite necessary for the system, was successfully launched into orbit, ending China’s reliance on the United States for the technology.
The launch, in Xichang, South China, was declared a success as the Beidou satellite achieved the desired orbit conditions, said the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
Beidou, which translates to ‘The Big Dipper’ – a hat tip to the northern hemisphere constellation – will become the fourth global navigation satellite system. The network of Chinese satellites joins Galileo (Europe), GPS (US), and GLONASS (Russia) as the only groups to have global positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) systems in operation.
Beidou, a part of the global infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), has been used in some capacity since 2011, when coverage was limited to the Asia-Pacific region.
The Chinese government is using Beidou for security and surveillance, forestry, fishing, agriculture and disaster management.
Chief designer, Yang Changfeng, said Beidou’s achievement of global coverage was a sign that China had become a true space power.
Beidou is used by nearly 120 nations, many of them BRI partners, and its features have already been built into many Chinese-made phones. According to an aerospace consultant at Avascent, Stephen Ganote, Beijing wants national companies to have Beidou-enabled capabilities.
The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is the primary benefactor of Beidou’s successful launch, maintains Dr Bleddyn Bowen, an international relations expert at the University of Leicester.
Zhou Chenming, a military expert from Beijing, says military applications will include better force deployment coordination; increased logistical support; and an independent navigation and locations network for missiles, drones and other tactical weaponry.
The Beidou network consists of 35 satellites and is worth an estimated $10 billion. In 2003 China became the third nation to successfully and safely conduct a crewed space mission. Since then, the nation has sent two rovers to the moon and built an experimental space station, while increasing its budget for space programmes by more than 350%.