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Navigation network on track for global coverage

Zhao Lei
Updated: May 14,2015 11:06 AM     China Daily

China will launch up to four satellites for its global navigation and positioning network this year, senior project officials said, noting the country is willing to deepen cooperation with other space powers.

“We will launch three or four satellites for the Beidou Navigation Satellite System before the end of this year to ensure that a network covering the globe will take shape by 2020,” Yang Changfeng, chief designer of the Beidou system, told reporters on May 13 on the sidelines of the Sixth China Satellite Navigation Conference in Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province.

More than 2,000 government and international organization representatives, industry experts, researchers and enterprise managers are taking part in the three-day event, which aims to boost industry players’ communication and the sector’s development.

“The first of our new-generation Beidou satellites, which was launched in March, is now carrying out tests on the cutting-edge navigation signaling mechanism and intersatellite links,” Yang said. “Compared with its predecessors, the last one has a longer designed life span and higher accuracy. Its service life is around 10 to 12 years compared with eight years for the old model, and the maximum accuracy is around 2.5 meters rather than the current 10 meters.”

China launched its first Beidou satellite in 2000. The system began providing positioning, navigation, timing and short-message services to civilian users in China and surrounding areas in the Asia-Pacific region in December 2012. Currently, the system consists of 16 satellites.

The latest satellite in the Beidou network-the fourth such system in the world following the United States’ GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and European Union’s Galileo-was sent into orbit on March 30, marking the first step in the expansion of the Chinese network from a regional service to global coverage.

According to the government’s plan, the Beidou system will be made up of 35 satellites by 2020, five of which will be in geostationary orbit.

Ran Chengqi, director of the China Satellite Navigation Office, said the country has been sparing no effort to turn the Beidou network into a universal platform.

“The International Maritime Organization included our Beidou system in the Worldwide Radionavigation System last November, after GPS and GLONASS. Currently we are pushing forward the airworthiness certification for Beidou’s airborne equipment, hoping that the system could be accepted by the International Civil Aviation Organization within five years,” he said.

Ran noted the ICAO has listed the Beidou’s certification on its work agenda, but the process will be very complicated due to the vast amount of tests and standards that need to be met.

“We are also willing to conduct deep and comprehensive exchanges on technologies and techniques with the US, Russia and EU, which we believe will strongly improve involved parties’ research and development capability,” Ran said.

Yang said China is working with a host of neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Thailand in Beidou’s infrastructure construction and applications.

Pieter De Smet, a policy officer at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, said: “China has made excellent progress on its Beidou system. The European Union and China have already had a number of very good cooperation projects in satellite navigation, particularly in the application sector.”

He is responsible for applications, security and international cooperation for European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service and Galileo global navigation satellite system at the European agency.

The two sides will continue to discuss other possible fields for further collaboration, according to him.