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BeiDou (COMPASS), China’s GPS, to service Asia by 2012 and the world by 2020

BeiDou (COMPASS) Satellite #4 Launched June 3, 2010 Beijing Time

BeiDou (COMPASS) Satellite #4 Launched June 3, 2010 Beijing Time

China has just successfully placed into orbit her fourth satellite, which over the next ten years would complete a constellation of 35, to offer navigation and communications services to the world. By 2012, the BeiDou (COMPASS), in Chinese, 北斗卫星导航系统, system becomes operational for the Asia region. By 2020, it will service the entire globe. China joins the U.S. (GPS) and Russia (GLONASS) as the third country to have developed such a system. Like the GPS, COMPASS will have dual military and civil use where the military will have access to higher precision signals.

According to this Xinhua article, COMPASS’s “open” service, which is free of charge to global users, will have positioning accuracy of 10 meters.

GPS has a positioning accuracy of 20 meters. GPS also can be selectively turned off by region by the U.S. military. By January 17, 1994 a complete constellation of 24 satellites was in orbit. (Source: Wikipedia.org)

GPS has become a household word and applications for it are vast. This technology has been described as a “public good.” Therefore, all major powers of our world are going to develop their own once they can afford it.

The European Union is expected to have its Galileo operational by 2014. In an interesting twist, the E.U. had originally signed China on to work together on the Galileo project back in 2003. However, the E.U. kept China away from major decisions for the project. The E.U. also failed to secure financing for their portions of the program. As a result, China pulled out of the partnership. New York Times reports, “Chinese Square Off With Europe in Space:”

Chinese officials have told the International Telecommunications Union, the United Nations agency that allocates radio spectrum frequencies for satellite use, that China plans to transmit signals on the wavelength that the European Union wants to use for Galileo’s Public Regulated Service.

International Telecommunications Union convention is basically “first come first served” when a country wishes to grab certain frequencies. Newer satellites sent to orbit must not disrupt frequencies that are already in use.

For further information on BeiDou (COMPASS), NASA’s spaceflight.com has a report with many technical details: “China launches BeiDou-2 – Station and Lunar plans outlined.” It reports China also makes public her plans for a space station and various missions to the moon:

First space docking

China is also gearing up for two important missions: the launch of Chang’e-2 next October and the launch of TG-1 TianGong-1 space module at the beginning of next year. TiangGong-1 is expected to accomplish the country’s first space docking and is regarded as an essential step toward building a space station, according to Qi Faren, former chief designer of Shenzhou spaceships.

Lunar samples

Also involved with Phase II are the launches of Chang’e-3 and Chang’e-4, two probes that will land on the Moon. Starting on 2017, the Phase III will see the launch of Chang’e-5 and Chang’e-6, that will return samples from the lunar surface.

China has come a long way since the 1970 “The East is Red (东方红)” satellite.

Dong Fang Hong

Dong Fang Hong, China's first satellite (1970)

  1. George Monser
    June 4th, 2010 at 21:24 | #1

    yinyang, Chinese space vehicles may play a future role in the USA’s new space program, recently announced by President Obama. As you may know, he wants “private industry” to be the main source of the launch vehicles that will take humans and robot probes to asteroids and the planets in the future. Companies in Asia and Europe, as well as America, will be able to sell their launch vehicles and launch services to our national space agency, NASA.

    The new plan is opposed by public officials from some US states that would have profited from the old Constellation Program. However, many others groups like the Planetary Society of which I am a member, strongly support the new plan, and I hope it will be funded.

  2. June 5th, 2010 at 00:11 | #2


    Happy to hear you are a member of the Planetary Society. It’s a great organization.

    You probably know too that in the mid 90’s, the U.S. made some lame excuse to block American corporations from using Chinese commercial satellite launching services. I think the Chinese will naturally be weary of this change of heart on the U.S.’s part.

    I also think it will be tough for Obama to overturn those protectionist sentiments built in the mid 90’s in the U.S..

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