Countries along Beijing’s flagship Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-century Maritime Silk Road–better known as “One Belt, One Road”–will be among the first in line to plug into China’s new satellite-navigation services, according to a government policy paper on the country’s space program.
The China-backed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Silk Road Fund have around $140 billion in capital between them to finance infrastructure across two great arcs of Chinese trade: the land-based “belt” to the north stretching across Central Asia and Russia to Europe, and the maritime “road” to the south, encompassing East Africa, South Asia and Southeast Asia.
The space policy paper, issued by the State Council Information Office, hints at how China plans to use its space technology to support its wide-ranging programs on the ground and further tie partner nations into the Beijing blueprint.
Navigation and positioning services will form one element of a Belt and Road Initiative Space Information Corridor that China aims to set up over the next five years, the paper says. Earth observation, communications and other satellite services are also part of the package.
Beidou helped Chinese companies generate around $29 billion in revenue in 2015, just two years after its commercial launch, according to state media reports citing Miao Qianjun, secretary-general of the Global Navigation Satellite System and Location-based Services Association of China. As the system’s coverage area expands, neighboring countries including Thailand and Vietnam are using Beidou to deliver navigational data.
China also seems to be banking on Beidou stimulating the economies that use the system, boosting trade along its new Silk Road and channeling benefits back to China.
Though Beijing is spending an estimated $25 billion putting the satellites into orbit, the total market for satellite services in telecommunications and other sectors should be worth around $60 billion within the next few years, according to the system’s operator, the China Satellite Navigation Management Office.
China is gearing up for the Beidou system to deliver global coverage in 2020, the policy paper adds. But countries that join China’s terrestrial One Belt, One Road will be first to share in its unearthly achievements, getting access to Beidou two years earlier.
In 2017, three to four launches of BeiDou satellites will occur. BDS will provide basic services to the countries along the Belt and Road region by 2018, and possess global service capability by 2020.
BDS will keep improving its nationwide reference station network and steadily enhance its service performance. The dense reference stations for the nationwide frame network will be constructed by 2018, providing meter and decimeter level real-time location services for users in China, even centimeter level service in some areas.
BDS will carry out the design, validation and construction of SBAS in accordance with international civil aviation standards. The first GEO satellite of BDSBAS will be launched in around 2018. The satellite-based augmentation services covering China and surrounding regions will be provided from 2020, to provide CAT-I services to civil aviation users.
The free civilian service has a 10-meter location-tracking accuracy, synchronizes clocks with an accuracy of 10 nanoseconds, and measures speeds to within 0.2 m/s. The restricted military service has a location accuracy of 10 centimetres, can be used for communication, and will supply information about the system status to the user. To date, the military service has been granted only to the People’s Liberation Army and to the Military of Pakistan.
BeiDou’s current accuracy is about 10 meters compared to the US GPS’s 1 meter.
China aims to improve the system a hundred-fold that it would be more accurate than the popular American GPS.
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