China successfully launches BeiDou satellite, comes closer to completing third-gen global satellite navigation system

China recently launched a new satellite on Monday, 9 March, coming one step closer to completing the third phase of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS).

The country wants to build its own navigation system that will be in competition with the American GPS and Russian GLONASS, and is expected to be even more accurate than either of them. The Indian space agency ISRO has also launched its new navigation system, NAvIC, which is said to be more accurate than GPS.

The BeiDou Navigation Satellite System is China's answer to the other satellite navigation systems. Image credit: Wikipedia

China’s Long March 3B/E rocket carrying the satellite lifted off from Xichang Satellite Launch Center at 6.25 pm IST. This satellite was sent into a geosynchronous transfer orbit. The satellite will use its own propulsion system to manoeuvre into a circular geosynchronous orbit nearly 36,000 kilometres over the equator.

An hour after liftoff, China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp (CASC) announced that the launch was a success. This was also the first official confirmation of the launch attempt, with airspace closure notices indirectly indicating imminent activity days earlier, reported Space News, according to Spaceflight.

The Chinese navigation system can be used for positioning, timing, and wide-area differential and short message communications for users in the Asia-Pacific region. It can also be used for public security, forestry, fishing, search and rescue, etc. The satellites were also used to combat the coronavirus epidemic in China.

What is the Beidou navigation system?

Beidou means “Big Dipper” in Chinese and is also the name of the first phase (BeiDou-1) of the satellites that were launched in 2000. They were decommissioned in 2012. The system consisted of three satellites, which used to only offer limited coverage and navigation services, which were mainly used by China and its neighbouring regions.

The Chinese navigation system can be used for positioning, timing, search and rescue.

The second collection of the BDS is called COMPASS or BeiDou-2. The program started in 2011 and it has 35 satellites, which include five geostationary orbit satellites for backward compatibility with BeiDou-1, and 30 non-geostationary satellites — 27 in medium Earth orbit and three in inclined geosynchronous orbit — that will offer complete coverage of the globe.

In 2015, China launched the third generation BeiDou system (BeiDou-3) for global coverage. This constellation will eventually consist of 35 satellites — three GEO satellites, three IGSO satellites, and twenty-four MEO satellites which introduce new signal frequencies. It will also SBAS and SAR capabilities.

According to CASC, the mission success rate is 100 percent. The Project Director Ran Chengqi had told reporters, in December 2019, that two more satellite launches will complete the BeiDou-3 system by June 2020.