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SPACE PROGRAMME

Rocket launch set to complete regional 'GPS for China'

Satellite launch expected this month will complete second phase of Beidou, China's answer to GPS, giving coverage of Asia-Pacific

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2012, 8:47am
 

China is likely to launch its 16th Beidou satellite later this month, completing a crucial stage in the construction of its home-made satellite navigation system.

The Beijing News, quoting an anonymous source, said yesterday that the satellite would enable the system to extend its signal coverage over the Asia-Pacific region from Afghanistan to the Western Pacific, and from Mongolia to Australia.

An official from the Beidou Navigation Satellite System Management Office in Beijing said yesterday that the launch schedule was subject to change.

"It is in our plan but many factors, such as weather, can cause postponement," he said.

"In a sensitive period, before the party congress [next month], we are not allowed to disclose the launch date until we receive the instructions from higher authorities."

China has marked three stages in the development blueprint for the Beidou system, which it hopes will rival the US Global Positioning System (GPS) network.

The first stage, an experimental network consisting of three satellites covering China, was completed in May 2003, six months after Hu Jintao became Communist Party general secretary. It was begun under his predecessor, Jiang Zemin . Hu is expected to hand the position on to Vice-President Xi Jinping next month. It has been widely speculated by people in China's space industry that the second stage of the system, covering the Asia-Pacific region, would be finished during Hu's term, becoming one of his political monuments.

Construction of the third stage, with global coverage, is scheduled to be finished by 2020, within Xi's term in office.

People involved in the project said they hoped that Xi could continue to support it with the same generosity as his predecessors, if not more.

Liao Chunfa , a key researcher involved in the Beidou project, said that without state leaders' consistent support, Beidou could fail.

"It is more difficult to maintain than to build a satellite navigation system. It requires state leaders to pass the determination from one generation to the next."

By 2020, Beidou is expected to comprise a network with 35 satellites, providing Chinese military and civilian users around the world with positioning, navigation and timing services rivalling those of GPS.

Like GPS, Beidou was developed primarily for military purposes. In the 1990s, the Chinese military used GPS for their long-range missile guidance but discovered that the United States could direct missiles to the wrong targets by manipulating signals.

Chinese leaders then decided to build their own global navigation system, according to mainland space experts familiar with the Beidou project.

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