A report in Bloomberg outlines China’s new drive towards globalizing their own celestial navigation system, which will one of the largest space program developments the country has ever undertaken. Most of the world currently relies on the Global Positioning System (GPS), which is owned by the United States government and operated by the Air Force.
The Chinese version of GPS is called the Beidou Navigation System, and currently serves them and their neighbors. In 2020, China plans to expand Beidou’s reach to a global scale in an effort to reduce dependence on an American-owned system.
“They don’t want to depend on the U.S.’s GPS,’’ said Marshall Kaplan, a professor in the aerospace engineering department at the University of Maryland. “The Chinese don’t want to be subject to something that we can shut off.’’
The expansion of Beidou, which is named for the Chinese word for the Big Dipper constellation, is another in President Xi Jinping’s moves to make China a major player in new world technologies. “The Beidou system has become one of the great achievements in China’s 40 years of reform,’’ he said in a letter to a United Nations satellite navigation committee on November 5th.
China has been building Beidou since the 1990s. A 2017 analysis by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission predicts they will have spent an estimated $8.98 billion to $10.6 billion on its development by 2020. The aerospace industry will generate 400 billion yuan ($57 billion) in China in 2020 and Beidou will open up export opportunities for strengthening political and economic ties through funding of infrastructure projects in other countries, according to the U.S.-China security commission.
The expansion of the project heightens tensions between the world’s two largest economies—the US and China—who are already battling for aerospace market share. Beidou will eventually provide positioning accuracies of 1 meter (3 feet) or less with use of a ground support system, one-upping GPS’s 2.2 meter accuracy. China is also building airplanes to decrease dependence on American manufacturers like Airbus SE and Boeing Co., and plans to launch the first rocket to reach the far side of the moon by the end of the year.