Feeds

China plans global satnav system

Big sticks only work if you're in the navsat club

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

With navigation satellite constellations rapidly becoming a must-have for any major world power, China has joined Europe and Russia as an aspirant to match US sat nav technology. The People's Republic has announced that it will upgrade its localised Beidou satellite system to global coverage by 2015.

The Chinese state Xinhua news service reports that Zhang Xiaojin of the state-owned China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation revealed the plans on Chinese television yesterday.

The Singapore Straits Times quotes the senior official as saying that "the system will shake off the dependence on foreign systems".

The only worldwide sat nav constellation currently in service is the American Global Positioning Service (GPS), funded by the US military. The unencrypted, free-to-use GPS civil signal is used by the vast majority of satnav kit worldwide. The former "selective availability" option, in which the accuracy of the civil GPS signal could be degraded*, has now been discontinued. However, America retains the option of denying GPS service at places and times of its own choosing.

Many people worldwide don't care to be reliant on the civil GPS signal, and can't get access to the encrypted military signal (though this latter option is open to American allies). One application of sat nav often seen as strategically critical is the guidance of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). A modern ICBM requires no assistance to strike a city-sized target with a nuclear warhead, but if a more difficult task such as knocking out a hardened enemy launch silo is contemplated then sat nav assistance is necessary.

Quite apart from ICBMs, modern military operations are highly dependent on satnav for hosts of other purposes, with applications now descending to the level of infantry squads or even individual footsoldiers.

Thus the French military in particular are very keen to see the European Galileo system deployed, offering some independence from the use of American GPS. Unlike the UK, France makes its own ICBMs but it has no independent sat nav. Similarly, Russia is currently upgrading its GLONASS constellation, which fell into disrepair after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Quite apart from military applications, sat nav is now becoming more and more widespread in civil life, and it is argued by some that a loss of service - if the current pace of adoption continues - could soon be economically devastating to developed countries. GPS is particularly significant to the aviation and shipping industries at present, and will be more so as the US moves to GPS-based air traffic control, but ordinary groundbased applications are also growing in popularity.

In Europe, the development of the Galileo system is also seen as a chance to develop high-tech space industry and related user electronics.

All this has plainly not been lost on the overlords of modern China. It now appears that the existing five Beidou satellites, with orbits chosen to provide best coverage mainly over the People's Republic, will be joined by a world-girdling fleet of 30.

The sat nav users of the future will be spoilt for choice, it appears. With more than 100 spacecraft from the GPS, Galileo, GLONASS and Beidou systems in orbit, coverage and accuracy - at least for devices able to use more than one system - should be excellent. ®

*Though there were effective workarounds such as "Differential GPS", in which a fixed ground station - knowing its own location accurately - could work out the GPS error and transmit corrections to a suitably equipped mobile unit in near-real time.

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Britain's housing crisis: What are we going to do about it?
Rent control: Better than bombs at destroying housing
Top beak: UK privacy law may be reconsidered because of social media
Rise of Twitter etc creates 'enormous challenges'
GCHQ protesters stick it to British spooks ... by drinking urine
Activists told NOT to snap pics of staff at the concrete doughnut
What do you mean, I have to POST a PHYSICAL CHEQUE to get my gun licence?
Stop bitching about firearms fees - we need computerisation
Ex US cybersecurity czar guilty in child sex abuse website case
Health and Human Services IT security chief headed online to share vile images
We need less U.S. in our WWW – Euro digital chief Steelie Neelie
EC moves to shift status quo at Internet Governance Forum
Oz biz regulator discovers shared servers in EPIC FACEPALM
'Not aware' that one IP can hold more than one Website
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.