China Launches 4th Navigation Satellite in Effort to Compete With U.S., Europe
In what is being interpreted as a challenge to U.S. and European satellite navigation efforts, China launched its fourth navigation satellite over the weekend the Financial Times reported today:
The successful launch on Saturday of the “Beidou” navigation satellite, on board a Long March 3A rocket, underscores Beijing’s determination to develop its space industry.
China’s plans for its satellite navigation system – known in English as “Compass” – have been shrouded in secrecy, with officials repeatedly declining to comment on their intentions. However, Saturday’s launch appears to be an effort to augment a relatively imprecise system based on three Beidou satellites launched between 2000 and 2003.
In a rare public discussion of Beijing’s plans, the official Xinhua news agency said in November that two geostationary satellites would be launched early this year, allowing the system to cover all of China and parts of neighbouring countries by 2008.
Xinhua had previously reported that the Beidou system would eventually expand to offer global coverage with a constellation of 30 medium earth orbit satellites. However, no timetable has been given for the expansion.
While China is a partner in Europe's Galileo project, many analyst see Beidou’s development as a challenge to the commercial success of Galileo. Operation of Galileo, which has plans for 30 satellites as well, has been postponed until 2011 because of technical problems and other delays.
Currently, the United States is the only country with a fully operational global positioning system. Russia has also launched some navigation satellites, though its system is not yet fully operational.