China delayed launching the last of the BeiDou-3 satellites into orbit after finding “technical problems” in the rocket carrier, state media Xinhua reported on June 16.
The problems were discovered during a routine check before the satellite launch in Xichang centre, in the southwestern province of Sichuan. Xinhua did not elaborate on the exact cause of the problem. The launch was originally scheduled for around 10:30am on June 16, dependent on weather.
The carrier, a Long March 3B rocket, is the primary rocket used to place communications satellites into geosynchronous orbits. It is currently the second most powerful member of the Long March rocket family.
The satellite is the final piece of the third generation BeiDou navigation system, China’s answer to the Global Positioning System (GPS), which is owned by the United States government and is run by the US Air Force. The development of BeiDou began in the 1990s when China’s military recognised a need to build a navigation system independent of the US-run GPS.
According to Alex Joske, an analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Cyber Policy Centre, a completed constellation would help in China’s pursuit of independent navigation technology.
“The greater self-reliance that a fully fledged BeiDou system would give China, and the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in particular, are a reflection of the party’s ongoing drive to decouple itself from Western critical technologies,” he said.
He added that BeiDou would be essential if China were ever denied access to GPS. It would also expand the Chinese government’s international engagement because other countries could start using Chinese instead of US technology.
Beijing has invested heavily in BeiDou, which is Mandarin for the stars that make up the Big Dipper or Plough constellation. BeiDou’s development was spurred by an “unforgettable humiliation” suffered by the PLA in 1996, when the military lost track of two missiles during an exercise aimed at curtailing a perceived move towards independence by the self-ruled island of Taiwan. Military analysis afterwards suggested the missile failures could have been caused by GPS disruptions.
Joske said Chinese guided missiles could be rendered useless during a conflict if they relied heavily on GPS for navigation.
The first of the BeiDou satellites launched in 2000 and, now in its third generation, the system has expanded from primarily military use to include large scale commercial applications.
Its features have been built into many popular smartphones, with processor chips such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon and Huawei’s Kirin using the technology along with GPS and sometimes the European Galileo and Russian Glonass systems. In addition, Beijing has ordered all passenger buses, heavy trucks and fishing boats to install BeiDou terminals for real-time transportation, location and logistic needs.
The system’s second generation became operational in China in December 2011 with a partial constellation of 10 satellites in orbit. Beidou started offering services across the Asia-Pacific region with 20 satellites a year later. China began launching the third generation of satellites for global coverage in 2015, which will have 30 satellites in total if completed. – South China Morning Post
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