China used a single carrier rocket Sunday night to launch two state-of-the-art satellites into space, marking the global network expansion of its Beidou Navigation Satellite System.
Beidou will lead the world and outperform the GPS system by around 2020 when Beidou goes global, Chinese space experts said.
The two Beidou-3 satellites were aboard a Long March-3B carrier rocket which took off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Southwest China's Sichuan Province.
"Technology has significantly improved the performance of the Beidou-3, with the signal accuracy in space higher than half a meter," said Yang Changfeng, the system's chief designer.
Yang said the Beidou-3 has outperformed previous-generation satellites, including in service life and accuracy.
China plans to turn Beidou into a global positioning and navigation system by around 2020, making it the third country in the world after the US and Russia to operate its own global navigation system, Jiao Weixin, a space science professor at Peking University, told the Global Times.
China plans to launch 18 Beidou-3 satellites by the end of 2018 to expand the Beidou services to countries along the Belt and Road routes. By around 2020, it will have more than 30 satellites.
"Beidou could have GPS-like functions after it forms a global network. But with eight more satellites running above the equator and moving between north and south, we could ensure that the equator area, South China Sea and China's northernmost city of Mohe will all have better signals than GPS," Jiao said.
Meanwhile, China's Beidou could offer active positioning services, meaning that during major disaster relief operations, the command center will be able to locate the rescue teams. GPS can only help a rescue team locate itself, Jiao said.
The Beidou project, which started in 1994, began to serve China in 2000 and the Asia-Pacific region by the end of 2012, Xinhua said.
However, the Beidou system faces challenges in the number of satellites that can be produced, as China needs to launch about 30 satellites in three years, Yang said.
Beyond navigation services
Yu Xiancheng, president of GNSS and LBS Association of China, told the Xinhua News Agency that the technology used in Beidou has gone beyond mere navigation services. The Beidou precision service network has provided services to 400 cities for various purposes, including agriculture and real estate management.
The high-precision service of Beidou could provide location services to cellphones even in a tunnel or garage. In the future, the Beidou system will be used for aviation, power grids and dispatching and controlling high-speed trains, as well as autonomous driving and artificial intelligence, Yang said.
Fishermen in South China's Hainan Province with the Beidou system would be able to accurately monitor their work, report possible threats and even listen to weather reports and warning notices at sea, Xinhua said.
"With a global network, I predict that the Beidou system will be more frequently used by overseas clients and domestic clients abroad. China's Beidou is the world's Beidou, and the global satellite navigation market is certainly Beidou's market," Yang said.
China's satellite navigation industry will surpass 400 billion yuan ($58 billion) by 2020, said Ran Chengqi, an official at the Beidou Navigation Satellite System, Xinhua reported. The high-precision board cards and antennas of the system were sold in more than 70 countries and regions, over 30 of which are along the Belt and Road.