20 years is what has taken China to cover its orbiting BeiDou satellites around the world. The ambitious Chinese project is presented as one of the most serious alternatives to the American GPS. Now, with a satellite network of 30 units, BeiDou already has global coverage.
On Tuesday morning this week a Long March-3B rocket took off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center with the latest BeiDou satellite on board. Half an hour later, BeiDou’s 30th satellite was positioned in its orbit to close the satellite network and be able to cover all points on the planet. BeiDou thus becomes the fourth great satellite system together with the well-known American GPS, the GLONASS of Russia and the European project Galileo.
BeiDou’s entry into the third phase
Completing the satellite network with 30 in orbit implies that BeiDou is entering its third phase. This third phase is nothing more than the materialization of BeiDou as a global positioning system. Now any BeiDou compatible device will have coverage across the world.
Before three comes one and two. In the year 2000, the first phase of the Chinese system began, allowing it to cover all of China and a few more countries in Southeast Asia. This they did thanks to geostationary satellites, which do not require a complete network but instead limit coverage to a specific area (in this case, longitude 70 ° E to 140 ° E and latitude 5 ° N to 55 ° N) .
For the second phase of the project (since 2007) BeiDou expanded its coverage to all Southeast Asia, Oceania and much of the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. In this case, the satellites of the first network were not expanded, but were replaced by a total of 35 new satellites. The network improved its accuracy to 10 meter locations and for restricted military service up to 10 centimeters precision.
Finally we have the aforementioned phase three, which has now started with the latest BeiDou release. In this case it is a total of 30 satellites of which only three are geostationary. With this constellation of satellites, BeiDou compatible devices are now fully covered worldwide.
Now, is it used against GPS? Despite how accustomed we are to GPS in the West, in the rest of the world and especially in Asia there are widely used alternatives. Nikkei indicated last December that at least 70% of China’s smartphone market already supports BeiDou. In addition, since 2013, many vehicles in China have been forced to use BeiDou to be geolocated.