Chinese “BeiDou” GPS goes to market

Joël Barre, Director of the Guianese Space Centre and Deputy Chief Operating Officer of the Centre National Français d’Etudes Spatiales, 3rd from the left, and Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of Regional Policy 4th from the left, showing the model of the Ariane rocket.

Joël Barre, Director of the Guianese Space Centre and Deputy Chief Operating Officer of the Centre National Français d’Etudes Spatiales, 3rd from the left, and Johannes Hahn, Member of the EC in charge of Regional Policy 4th from the left, showing the model of the Ariane rocket.

Towards the end of last year Beijing announced the opening of its Geostatic Positioning System for civic and commercial users in the region of Asia and Pacific, adding that the China Satellite Navigation Office is working fast to extend the area covered by this satellite umbrella named “BeiDou”. A GPS system “provides location and time information anywhere on or near the Earth… The system provides critical capabilities to military, civil and commercial users around the world.“ 

The currently used all over the world American GPS system, NavStar, covers the entire globe offering a huge array of civic services and of course, valuable military applications for the US. In 1996 the precision of the American system offered to civic and commercial users was greatly increased and its services were made free of charge. As a result applications multiplied exponentially, but the world would go today totally blind, if the Americans decide to shut down their NavStar for the rest of us.

The same is true for the Russian GLONASS system, which offers similar possibilities of global coverage and precision. But in this case also Russia can do the same as the Americans, holding the world as hostage.
This fact and the huge military abilities related to GPSs have urged the other global players like Europe, China, and Britain to develop their own systems.

Of those endeavours however, only the Chinese “Beidou” system is able now in practice to offer services to civic and commercial users in the area of Asia-Pacific. The European Union and Britain are well ahead with their own projects. The EU is developing its Galileo system and the Britain the NAVSOP but none is available today.

European GPSs

On 12 October 2012 Europe’s satellite navigation system made a giant step forward. According to an EU Commission announcement, “Two operational satellites were launched on 12 October from Kourou, French Guiana, using a Soyuz launcher. These two new satellites, named David and Sif1, have joined another pair of satellites that has been orbiting the Earth since October 2011. Together they form a mini-constellation of four satellites needed for Galileo’s validation and fine-tuning. Following a detailed in-orbit check, by the end of 2014 a further 14 satellites will be deployed. This will enable EU to provide the very first services based on this cutting-edge EU infrastructure”.

On the British side progress seems equally encouraging. The country’s leading defence company BAE Systems unveiled its research on an “advanced positioning system that exploits existing transmissions such as Wi-Fi, TV, radio and mobile phone signals, to calculate the user’s location to within a few metres”. Given that the US and Russia have concluded the development of their GPSs many years ago during the “cold war”, today’s projects are spearheaded by the Chinese “BeiDou” system, which is the first to offer civic users a reliable service, needing however expensive login gadgets. The China Satellite Navigation Office though said they expect the market to come up with cheap solution for receiver equipment.

 

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