China hopes to finish a key phase of its Beidou navigation system (BDS) – a rival to America’s GPS network – by the end of the year, according to state media reports. China Central TV said eight to 10 satellites would be launched this year to enhance the network’s coverage, and if all went well it would be able to complete the medium earth orbit network. The China Satellite Navigation Office, which administers the scheme, told the network: “BDS will continue to reinforce the high-density global network. “We will further improve satellite distribution and upgrade the system’s service and user experience.” Beidou has both military and civilian applications – just like the rival Global Positioning System operated by the US Air Force. Work on the project began in 1994 to serve the People’s Liberation Army’s navigational and communication needs. The first two Beidou satellites were launched in 2000, and the current BDS system is the third generation of this project, starting in 2009 and is set to be fully completed in 2020. BDS began offering its basic global service in December 2018, with a positioning accuracy of about 10 metres (33ft) globally and five metres in the Asia-Pacific region. When completed, the medium earth orbit network will consist of 27 satellites, supported by eight others in different orbits. The additional satellites should help to enhance the system’s accuracy to within 10 centimetres for military users, compared with GPS’s 30 centimetres. Beidou – which is named after the stars that make up the Plough or Big Dipper – also offers some services that are not currently available to GPS users, including text messaging and user tracking through its short messaging service. The Chinese government has ordered all of passenger buses, trucks and fishing boats to install Beidou to ensure real-time monitoring and tracking. China one step closer satellite navigation system Beidou that could threaten dominance of GPS As of 2017, 22 million vehicles and 50,000 boats had been fitted with Beidou terminals. Beijing is also positively promoting BDS to countries that take part in its “Belt and Road Initiatives – an ambitious transcontinental infrastructure network – by offering additional services and other incentives. According to a white paper published by the Chinese government in 2016, the system will primarily serve the interest of the BRI countries. “China will push forward the international development of BDS, actively carry out international cooperation and exchanges in this field, so as to serve the Belt and Road Initiative,” the document said. Russia and the European Union are developing their own global satellite navigation systems, called GLONASS and Galileo respectively, but they are in earlier stages of development.