The US and China may be butting heads over 5G dominance among other things but that isn’t the only technology that two giants are fighting over. Far older and years in the making, China has been working to create its own navigation satellite system independent of the popular US-owned GPS. While it might still take more than a decade before it goes fully online, China is close to completing its Beidou constellation with the launch of the final two satellites by June 2020.
Named after the Big Dipper, this current Beidou is actually China’s third run, the last one having been decommissioned in 2012. The constellation of satellites that would provide navigation and location services to China and its citizens numbered 19 last year. When the last two launch in 2020, the total will be up to 24.
The revelation was delivered in an unexpected and rare news conference by project director Ran Chengqi. The core of the system was apparently completed just this month but the launch of the two satellites won’t be until June next year. The Beidou-3 is described as having “high performance indicators, new technology systems, high localization, mass production networking and a wide range of users.” It won’t, however, go online immediately and Chengqi says not to expect it until 2035.
If successful, Beidou could be the world’s third navigation satellite system after the US’ GPS and Russia’s GLONASS. These two are already in widespread use around the world, especially in mobile devices and navigation systems. Chengqi’s words suggest China is aiming to provide the service to those outside its borders.
How that will fare with the world’s superpowers, especially the US, remains to be seen. Beidou-3 will most likely be perceived as a way for China to free itself from reliance on a critical piece of technology owned by the US. The US, on the other hand, may perceive it as a move to have more products and people using Chinese technologies, increasing fears of potential state-sanctioned espionage.