China Launches Key Satellite for Expansion of Beidou Navigation Network

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China on Monday launched a new-generation satellite to support and expand its global navigation and positioning network “Beidou”.

A Long March-3C carrier rocket carrying the satellite, the 21st of the Beidou Navigation Satellite System and the fifth of the new generation, lifted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China’s Sichuan Province at 15:29 on Monday.

Once in orbit, the satellite will join its four predecessors in testing inter-satellite crosslinks and a new navigation-signaling system that will set the framework and technical standards to allow a worldwide expansion.

“The satellite will further verify our technology of the homegrown inter-satellite crosslink system as well as our global coverage,” said Yang Changfeng, chief designer of the Beidou system.

Named after the Chinese term for the Big Dipper constellation, the Beidou project began in 1994, some 16 years after the GPS system was launched. The first Beidou satellite was not launched until 2000, but by 2012, a regional network had taken shape, providing positioning, navigation, timing and short message services to civilian users in China and parts of the Asia-Pacific region.

China plans to expand the Beidou service to most of the countries covered in its “Belt and Road” initiative by 2018, and offer full global coverage by 2020.

“We have made substantial progress in cooperating with the United States’ GPS system, Russia’s GLONASS and Europe’s Galileo,” said Ran Chengqi, director of the China Satellite Navigation Office.

The Beidou system was first included in the Worldwide Radionavigation System by the International Maritime Organization in 2013, following the GPS and GLONASS systems.

“Pakistan has already promoted the use of Beidou signals to provide navigation services. Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members like Thailand and Indonesia have also shown a keen interest in Beidou. We will also promote Beidou in the nations of the League of Arab States as well as to African countries by participating in related cooperation platforms,” added Ran.
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