China said it will be launching the final two satellites for its Beidou satellite-based positioning system by June, the Nikkei reported, citing a Beidou spokesperson. The move will complete the 35-satellite network and enable China to decouple itself from the US-owned Global Positioning System and its 30 satellites. The move is in line with China’s goal to rely less on the US for both its telecommunications and its military and to build an ecosystem independent of the GPS that would be open to Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. Over 70 percent of Chinese smartphones are already compatible with Beidou, which will also play a role in 5G.
Beidou was named after the Chinese term for the Big Dipper constellation. Beidou said its services will be enhanced by the end of next year. For example, the level of positioning accuracy will improve from within 5 meters to within centimeters, an advance that will aid search-and-rescue missions and also prove crucial for self-driving vehicles. Both Beidou and 5G will be employed by self-driving buses set to begin operation soon in the city of Wuhan. Beidou will also differentiate itself from GPS by supporting communication through its constellation of satellites.
Space is one of the priority areas of Beijing’s “Made in China 2025” plan for boosting self-reliance in vital technologies. By 2030, China aims to become a “space power” alongside the US and Russia. The launch of a Martian probe is set for as early as next year, followed by the completion of a Chinese space station around 2022.—Telecompaper