China launches key satellite in Beidou navigation
Launched from Xichang satellite launch center in the southwestern province of Sichuan, the satellite was aboard a Long March-3C carrier rocket. It is the 21st satellite in the Beidou Navigation Satellite System, and takes China one step closer to providing an alternative to the United States' GPS system.
The first 16 Beidou satellites formed a network that only covered China and nearby regions. The first new-generation satellite in the series, or the 17th in total, was launched in March last year to help the network transition from regional to global coverage.
Once in orbit, Monday's satellite, the fifth of the new generation, will join its four predecessors in testing inter-satellite crosslinks and a new navigation-signalling system that will set the framework and technical standards for global coverage.
According to Xiang Libin, commander-in-chief of the Beidou project, the latest satellite is crucial to integrating the two signal systems for regional and global navigation and switching between the two.
"Our new intersatellite crosslink system, featuring strong disturbance resistance and high-level privacy, is the core technology to compete with other countries' navigation networks. The new satellite will fully verify our technology," said Lin Baojun, the satellite's chief designer.
China plans to expand the Beidou services to most of the countries covered in its Belt and Road initiative by 2018, and offer global coverage by 2020. ■