China Develops GPS-like System to Rival US

By Joshua Cawthorpe, June 24, 2020

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China is said to have achieved global coverage for its own navigation satellite constellation after the successful launch of the final Beidou satellite on Tuesday. CNBC reported that China’s Beidou network rivals the US government-owned Global Positioning System (GPS). 

The last Beidou Navigation Satellite (BDS) was delivered into orbit by a Long March 3B rocket that left southwest China at 9.43am on Tuesday morning. The Beidou system has been in development since the 1990s and is already used in many countries around the world. In addition to expanding China’s global influence, the completion of the satellite system allows China to shed its military reliance on GPS.

In the event of a sustained conflict with the US, Chinese military technology could be vulnerable if dependent on American GPS, according to experts, as cited by CNBC. The newest generation of BDS, consisting of 30 satellites, will ensure that Chinese military systems, as well as navigation and messaging, will be resilient to US interference and remain online.

The significance of the Beidou constellation extends far beyond military independence and highlights an important development in China’s technological influence around the globe. China has been promoting the BDS system as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. A Nikkei analysis showed that Chinese satellites were accessed more frequently than GPS satellites in 130 of 195 countries last year, predominantly in southeast Asia and Africa.

Chinese technology gains an advantage on the global market as more countries adopt the BDS navigation system because Chinese smartphones and cars will be Beidou-compatible by default. Unlike GPS which only sends signals, BDS satellites send and receive information. Global Times reports that BDS satellites are equipped with a short message function to be used in the event of a disaster and they collect location information of devices that are equipped with BDS navigation chips – a feature that is concerning to the US National Security establishment. However, the US also has similar capabilities, with GPS-enabled smartphones able to be tracked with apps like ‘Find My iPhone.’

Despite the final launch being delayed last week due to technical issues, an announcement on the Beidou government website states that this 55th and last BDS satellite marks the completion of the program half a year ahead of schedule. The official website boasts a 100% success rate for the 18 launch missions since 2017. In the past, China has withheld the announcement of a launch until after it is confirmed successful. However, the June 23 launch was announced in advance and it was broadcasted live online and on CCTV.

READ MORE: China Releases Ambitious Space Plan for 2020

[Cover image via QQ]

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