GPS, the Global Positioning System, is about to get some competition. The fact that it’s run by the U.S. Air Force has prompted China to build its own, called Beidou.
Fearing the U.S. could shut off GPS whenever it chooses, signaling a continues chill in relations between the two countries, China has committed $9 billion to building out the Beidou Navigation System, which is scheduled to be online by 2020. The project is named after the Chinese word for the Big Dipper constellation.
In addition to military uses, car manufacturers Volkswagen and Toyota are planning to equip Beidou-enabled cars in the next few years, putting the system to commercial use.
Earlier this month, China launched its 18th and 19th Beidou satellites, putting them closer to being able to offer coverage across most of Asia, Africa and Europe, according to Spaceflight Now.
#BeiDou system opened to China in 2000. When the system is completed in 2020, it will be the fourth largest global satellite navigation system after the U.S. #GPS system, Russia's GLONASS and the European Union's #Galileo. It will be applied in countries along the #BeltandRoad. pic.twitter.com/2sodvJB9f3
— China Focus (@China__Focus) November 18, 2018
“When friends or relatives learn that I am working on the development of the BDS satellites, they often show me the BDS signals on their mobile phones,” said Wang Jingang, deputy chief designer of the BDS 3 satellites, according to Xinhua, the Chinese state-run news agency. “People still mainly depend on navigation by GPS, supplemented by BDS. I hope that in a few years, people can be navigated mainly by BDS.”
The move, according to the Strait Times, is just one prong in its plan to replace the U.S. in global aerospace dominance, including startups focused on space travel and a competitor to passenger jet builders in the west, Airbus and Boeing.