In the last several hours, China launched two BeiDou-3 satellite navigation system satellites atop a Long March-3B rocket. The launch is significant because it marks the beginning of the global expansion of the satellite system, that will, in the future, be usable alongside GPS, GLONASS and Galileo.
By the end of 2018, China hopes to have its BeiDou satellites set up along the Belt and Road trade routes, and then available globally in 2020. For civilian use, the system has an accuracy of 2.5 metres to five metres. For military applications it’ll be able to pin devices down to the nearest millimetre. BeiDou-3 overlaps with GLONASS in terms of accuracy but over is more accurate, meanwhile, Europe’s Galileo will be most accurate, giving you your location to one metre.
The new system will have several use cases from domestic to military, for example, Yang Changfeng, BeiDou’s chief designer, says it could be used to tell which lane a car is using on the motorway, detecting the movement of a building in high winds, and guiding fire trucks to the nearest water source.
Yang also said that it’ll be an important pillar of national security, for example, the Chinese military will be able to use the system to carry out tasks such as guiding Chinese warships to the newly established naval base in Djibouti in East Africa.
For most readers, the benefits of this satellite system will be felt in a couple of years when more phones begin shipping with chips capable of working with BeiDou; already phones with GPS + GLONASS give a more accurate location than those just using GPS, BeiDou will make location tracking more accurate, especially in cities where satellite visibility is obstructed by tall buildings.