Satellite launch 'overrides EU deal'

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 April, 2009, 12:00am

China's launch of a second navigation satellite for its Compass G2 system early yesterday indicates it has withdrawn from an alliance with Europe to develop a global satellite navigation network, according to mainland space experts.

The geostationary satellite was launched by a Long March 3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan at 12.16am, Xinhua reported.

The experts said the Compass G2 system would use radio frequencies reserved by Galileo, a satellite navigation system that, because of a lack of funding and some management problems, had managed to launch only one experimental probe.

'It is certainly not good news for the Europeans. Compass has surpassed Galileo. There is no doubt about it,' a senior satellite designer at the China Academy of Space Technology said.

An academy researcher said yesterday's launch meant all negotiations with the EU had failed.

The senior satellite designer said that when China joined the Galileo programme in 2003, it hoped to learn from the Europeans' more advanced satellite manufacturing technology.

'But the Europeans shared nothing with us,' he said. 'They were extremely guarded. In the end, they gave us some business operational rights - purely economic rights - in an area not much bigger than China.

'We asked, 'Is that all we get for paying more than Euro200 million [HK$2.06 billion]?' It is totally unfair. Even India, which contributed much less, had greater access to the system than we did.

'They said, 'Sorry, but it is our game, and we make the rules. If you have the technology as good as ours, go ahead and build your own'.'

China launched its first Compass G2 satellite in 2007. The launch caused a strong reaction in Europe as the Chinese system not only turned out to be more precise but used the same frequencies as Galileo.

China then halted the programme and restarted negotiations with the Europeans.

'It is indeed a bit morally shaky to take their frequencies, but it is totally legal,' the researcher said. 'The Europeans should blame themselves for xenophobia, endless internal quarrels over the budget and slow decision-making. China doesn't have any of those problems.

'We have already started working on Compass G3, which will beat GPS,' the United States' Global Positioning System.

Xinhua reported on Sunday that China would launch nine more Compass G2 satellites by the end of next year and complete construction of the entire network of more than 20 satellites by 2015.

The world's global satellite navigation market is dominated by the GPS network. It provides more accurate data than either Compass G2 or Galileo.

Xu Shijie, a guided-missile expert at Beihang University, said that with only a couple of satellites in orbit so far, the Compass G2 system could cover only a small area of the Earth.