China has launched its final satellite in its homegrown geolocation system, completing a network that is designed to rival American GPS as it competes for market share in the sector.
Footage broadcast live on television showed a rocket blasting off with the satellite from a mountainous region of southwest China, which state media hailed as another milestone in the country’s space programme.
The Beidou system — named after the Chinese term for the Big Dipper constellation –- works on a network of about 30 satellites and competes with the US’s Global Positioning System (GPS), Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo.
“I think the Beidou-3 system being operational is a big event,” Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, said. “This is a big investment from China and makes China independent of US and European systems.”
The final satellite, the Beidou-3GEO3, will help improve the network’s accuracy.
China started building the system in the early 1990s to help cars, fishing boats and military tankers navigate using mapping data from the country’s own satellites.