By Dr. Austin Maho
In a major landmark on June 23, China successfully launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province, its latest satellite of the Beidou Global Satellite Navigation System.
By this feat China has significantly boosted it geopolitical clout as the system is a rival to the United States owned and controlled Global Positioning System (GPS)
The launch represents the final step in a series of satellite launches conducted by China throughout the early months of 2020
The final launch on June 23 successfully delivered into orbit the 55th and final satellite of the Beidou third-generation constellation thereby completing the network
Information from Chinese media shows that the launch was “a complete success,” and described by Xinhua news agency shortly after the launch as “a milestone in the nation’s space endeavor”
Chinese President Xi Jinping, himself was on hand to officially commissioned the system at a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, to underscore the importance of the launch.
President Xi declared during the launch that the 55th and final geostationary satellite in was operating successfully having completed all tests.
The BeiDou satellite system started providing navigation services in 2018. According to information from the China Satellite Navigation Office, the system consists of: 3 satellites in geostationary orbit (GEO); 24 satellites in middle earth orbit (MEO); and 3 satellites in inclined geosynchronous orbit (IGSO).
The system offers positioning accuracy within 10 meters horizontal and 10 meters vertical (5 meters in the Asia-Pacific Region); a velocity measurement accuracy within 0.2 meters per second; and a timing accuracy of 20 nanoseconds.
The completion of the third-generation BeiDou system is a development with significant implications for Chinese military capabilities and also offers immense commercial possibilities especially to countries within China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
All Belt and Road countries are expected to benefit form the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System as China is making the system free to member countries. Already there is a BeiDou Navigation System Centre in the North African country of Tunisia. The centre was established in 2018 in Tunis as a Centre of excellence in Africa.
The centre is designed to serve as the gateway for Africa and Arab countries and to further space cooperation between Africa, the Middle East and China.
The system would further aid, land surveying, environmental monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster reduction, and maritime transportation. The siting of the African and Arab Centre of Baidou is a great boost to African countries and an important step in deepening mutually beneficial China Africa cooperation
BeiDou has similar capabilities like the U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Russian GLONASS network, BeiDou apart from having security applications is a civilian-led program intended for commercial and scientific purpose.
Accorting to analysts, a major advantage of the system over the US GPS system is that as well as being a navigation aid with an extremely high degree of accuracy, the system also offers short message communication of up to 1,200 Chinese characters and the ability to transmit images.
The implication is that, BeiDou can effectively, compete against US GPS, Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo networks.
BeiDou is also a major boost to China’s security as it does not have to rely on US GPS for guiding its missiles, with rising tensions between both countries.
China can easily counter a US intervention in a potential conflict if access to US controlled GPS is denied.
The BeiDou system would also give a boost to China’s economic and political leverage in the years ahead as all countries within the Belt and Road Initiative who would be providdd free access to the network
China have over the years developed its space cabailities in spite of limited cooperation with other countries, which included the construction of a space station, exploration on the surface of the moon among others.