China on Monday said it had successfully launched two navigation satellites, the twelfth and thirteenth additions to its fast-expanding home-grown navigation and positioning satellite network that will soon end Chinese dependence on the United States-run Global Positioning System (GPS).
The two satellites were launched at 4.50 am on Monday from the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in southwest Sichuan province, carried on a Long March-3B rocket. This marked the first instance of two navigation satellites being launched using one rocket, the State-run Xinhua news agency said.
China has in recent months accelerated its plans to expand its indigenous Beidou or Compass global positioning network, which will be completed to provide global coverage by 2020 with more than thirty satellites in orbit. The Beidou network will make China only the third country in the world – after the U.S. and Russia – to have its own independent, indigenous navigation system, Xinhua said.
The Chinese government said in a recent white paper Beidou was “designed to break China’s dependence on the US Global Positioning System”, and will serve both civilian and defence requirements.
China’s fast developing home-grown space programme reached another milestone last year, with the launch of Tiangong-1, the country’s first space laboratory module – a key step in China’s plans to put into orbit its own space station by 2020. China will become only the third country after the U.S and Russia to do so, although trailing both those countries by several decades in achieving this feat.
China’s investment of billions of yuan into its satellite and space programme comes at a time when the U.S. and the West are cutting spending on space missions, a fact highlighted by the official media last year which saw the launch of Tiangong-1 as “the latest showcase of the nation’s growing prowess in space... while budget restraints and economic tailspin have held back the once dominant U.S. space missions.”
China’s space programme has also begun to acquire increasing international influence, having launched more than 20 satellites for a number of developing countries, ranging from Bolivia and Nigeria to Pakistan. Last year, China launched Pakistan’s first communications satellite, PAKSAT-1R, from Sichuan.
Chinese officials hope their investments will pay rich commercial dividends when they offer their navigation satellite services to other countries.
The Beidou network will this year begin providing services for countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including real-time weather monitoring and navigation services. Ran Chengqi, director of the China
Satellite Navigation Management Office, told an industry conference last year that he expected the development of Beidou and related industries to create a 400 billion yuan ($ 63.5 billion) market by 2020.
Last week, Chinese media reports keenly followed the launch of India’s first indigenous radar imaging satellite, RISAT-1. The launch was discussed on news shows broadcast on State media outlets, while the satellite was dubbed by the State-run Xinhua news agency as “a spy satellite”.
Chinese officials have, however, sought to downplay concerns voiced by China's neighbours and Western countries about the strategic dimensions of its growing investments in space technology. Following the launch of Tiangong-1, State media commentaries rejected concerns of “a new wave of space race”, saying China was “neither the first country to seek explorations in outer space, nor the country with the most advanced technology, [so] it seems incomprehensible that China should cause concern to others.”
Keywords: China space programme