China has completed its BeiDou Navigation Satellite System, or BDS, becoming the fourth country in the world with a global navigation network, the other three being GPS of the U.S., GLONASS of Russia and Galileo of Europe.
As the name suggests, the global navigation satellite system provides navigation and location services on a 24-hour basis. From what we know so far, building a sound satellite system costs a bundle. Besides, the other systems are already well-established. So, what makes China's BDS stand out among its competitors?
Firstly, the other systems have 24 satellites in medium earth orbit (MEO). In addition to the 24 satellites, the BDS constellation also has three satellites in geostationary earth orbit (GEO) and three in inclined geosynchronous orbit (IGSO). What's special about the extra six satellites is that they have a relatively fixed range of activity.
This layout can enhance BDS' accuracy in China and the Asia-Pacific region to five meters, in comparison with a 10-meter accuracy in other areas.
Secondly, BDS has a trump card – the short message service. It is a function that allows users to have a two-way communication.
In areas not covered by cellular or communication signals, BDS can make the short message service available in uninhabited areas, such as deserts, forests, and mountainous or polar regions.
With this service, users in distress can inform the rescue team about their location and condition.
As the most populated country in the world, it's important for China to have its own global navigation satellite system to meet the needs of the country's socio-economic development.
In fact, the BDS is also good business. According to the White Paper on the Development of China's Satellite Navigation and Location Services Industry (2020), the country's satellite industry has maintained a 20-percent annual growth since 2012. BDS contributes about 80 percent of it.
The system has also generated tens of billions of dollars, countless high-paying jobs, and stimulated economic growth via big contracts in commercial industries.
And with improvements in functions, it will have much more to offer in the future.