Finally, China has its own fully operational GPS. Great….!!!! A Big Round Of Applause For China. But What about Albert Einstein? I mean, I am a physics Guy, and seeing that one of my role models is not getting his due credit spoils my mood because GPS is by far the most realistic application of Einstein’s Relativistic World. Ahhh, don’t worry we will talk about it in the later section.
Coming back to the topic of discussion; on 23 June 2020 China finally completed its global navigation network by launching the final member of the Beidou Navigation Satellite System. It took China almost two decades to fully operationalized its own, made in china global navigation satellite system. And with that, finally, we have one more alternative to the United States of America’s (GPS), European Union’s Galileo, and Russia’s GLONASS.
And frankly speaking, in my view, it’s cool to have more and more alternatives because without competition the world would become Monopolar. Plus even our earth is bipolar i.e north and south pole; obviously, I am not counting the third pole of the earth. Duh, I am joking, there is no third pole on this earth.
These satellites were launched from the satellite launch base of Xichang – officially known as Xichang Space Center, located in the southwestern province of Xichang, and was carried into space by again, made in china Long March 3B Rocket – which is primarily used to put communication satellites into their respected orbit. The timely completion of China’s Beidou system (short form BDS) took china one step closer to achieving its dream of becoming a major space power.
GPS Is Not GPS
There was a time when people (i mean common people) used to think that GPS is GPS. I think I confused you here. Let me be more specific..!! Global Positioning System (GPS) is the official name of the United States Of America’s Global Navigation Satellite System, just like the Beidou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) is the official name of made in china Global navigation satellite system; and the same goes on with European Union’s Galileo and Russia’s GLONASS.
Simply speaking, my point is that; as I am living in New Delhi India, currently using United States Of America’s Global Navigation Satellite System that’s why the name goes GPS. Now suppose that in the coming future, somehow I am able to switch my Global Navigation Satellite System network from USA’s Global Navigation Satellite System i.e GPS to made in china Global Navigation Satellite System i.e BDS. So would I be saying that I am using GPS, or, would I be saying I am using BDS? that’s my point – GPS is not GPS.
I think again I got derailed from the focus of the topic, the focus of the topic is made in china BDS and somehow its relation to Einstein’s World of Relativity. But before going into the details of BDS that how BDS evolved in the past two decades; I think I should first explain the relation of Einstein with GPS. whoops, Not with GPS but with Global Navigation Satellite System.
Relation Of Einstein With GNSS
Well, I don’t need to tell you who Albert Einstein is? You know it better. But I do need to tell you about some of his greatest achievements. Einstein’s Greatest works include the discovery of the Photoelectric Effect, his predictions of the existence of black holes, and moreover that who can forget the World’s Most Famous Equation i.e mass-energy equivalence. His works in the field of physics exceed all the other pioneers of theoretical science.
Apart from all of the above, one of the easiest ways to look into Albert Einstein’s Relativistic world is the principle behind the Working Of GPS. Let’s see how does GPS work? Did I say that again? It’s not GPS, it’s GNSS…..!!!
an animated pic of Albert Einstein explaining the world’s most famous mass-energy equivalence equationCredit: VectorStock
Well, it is a well-known fact that GNSS basically provides geolocation and time information to a receiver anywhere on earth; a receiver that is installed on your smartphone or simply in your car. For a Global Navigation satellite system to function precisely as it always does, it has to take Relativistic effects (Time Dilation) into account.
So, whenever you are trying to plan a route via GPS from your “Current Location”, your Smartphone needs to connect to a satellite to puzzle out where “Your Current Location” is. Satellites are moving around the Earth at a speed greater than normal (roughly 6000 miles per hour). The satellite speed might sound fast enough, butIt is still only about a thousandth of the speed of light. Even at a much slower speed than the Speed of light, satellites still confront with Time Dilation.
The satellite encounters the voyage of time faster than people on earth, so Einstein’s Relativistic world comes into effect when figuring out where the hell on earth you are… well, there are so many other ways to look into Einstein’s relativistic world. I can’t explain all of them here. if you want to check, you can read this article for further knowledge.
As now I am done with telling you the relation of Einstein with GNSS, therefore I shall move ahead and talk about the evolution of Made in china Beidou navigation satellite system (BDS).
Development Of BeiDou Navigation Satellite System
As I said, it took almost two decades for made in china BDS to become fully operational. Let me clear one thing so that you won’t get confused. A fully operational BeiDou means that the system became operational throughout the world. In other words, now BeiDou can help anyone navigate anywhere in the world (yeah, for that he/she has to be using the BeiDou system). If I talk about the evolution or development of the Beidou Navigation satellite system – the current BeiDou system is the third generation BeiDou system.
The development of the BeiDou system was carried out in three steps. In brief, the first generation BeiDou system was operational only for china. The second generation was operational for the whole Asia-Pacific Region. And the third generation BeiDou system is capable to operate globally. Let’s talk about them one by one…
1st Generation BDS – BeiDou-1
As far as naming of the BeiDou system is concerned – in mandarin, Big Dipper is historically known as Beidou. So you can say that the Chinese Navigation satellite system is named after the Big Dipper. Though the planning and commission of the BeiDou system were started in the late 20th century, but finally at the dawn of the 21st century, china launched its first-ever satellite of BieDou Constellation on 31 October 2000 followed by another launch on 21 December 2000 named BeiDou-1A and BeiDou-1B. Three years later, on 25 May 2003, China launched its 3rd and final satellite of BeiDou-1 named BeiDou-1C.
Coverage Polygon Of BeiDou-1
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
BeiDou-1 consists of 4 satellites (3 operational and 1 back up satellite) was basically an experimental regional navigation satellite system launched by china. Frankly speaking, they did not want to spend enough time and money on BeiDou-1, therefore, they used geostationary orbit satellites rather than using medium earth orbit satellites like the one used by USA’s GPS and others. Hence, as a result, BeiDou-1 coverage was limited to China and around China (see the above figure).
On the other hand, if I talk about the accuracy of BeiDou-1, it was giving information accurately to the nearest 20 meters. It was operational for over a decade. By the end of 2012, BeiDou-1 was decommissioned because the next generation BeiDou system was in motion i.e BeiDou-2
2nd Generation BDS – BeiDou-2
BeiDou-2 also known as “COMPASS” is nothing but the extension of BeiDou-1. In contrast to its predecessor, BeiDou-2 is having a collection of more than 30 operational satellites in its constellation. BeiDou -2 also known as the hybrid of BeiDou-1 consists of 5 geostationary orbit satellites (just to forward the legacy of BeiDou-1), 27 Medium Earth orbit satellites, and 3 inclined geosynchronous orbit satellites.
See, the basic funda is pretty simple – the more the number of operational satellites you have, the more precise accuracy you will get. Therefore, as a result, BeiDou extended its coverage from just china to regional neighbors of china.
coverage polygon of BeiDou-2
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
BeiDou-2 Became operational in 2 phases – such that after the operationalization of the first phase in 2011, it initially offered the facility to China only. A year later, with the launch of 20 more satellites in its constellation, it became fully capable to deliver its coverage to the whole Asia Pacific region (see the above picture). Now, if I talk about its accuracy, BeiDou-2 had two levels of accuracy – one for civilian use and one for Military use. Well, I don’t need to talk about it here in detail, as I will be explaining all in the later section of the applications of the BeiDou system. As for the general case, BeiDou-2 was giving information accurately to the nearest 10 meters which is almost double its predecessor i.e 20 meters.
3rd Generation BDS – BeiDou-3
The initial deployment of the third generation BeiDou system i.e BeiDou-3 began in late 2015. As I said earlier, the more the number of operational satellites you have, the more precise accuracy you will get.
In order to achieve global positional coverage, china deployed more satellites in its BeiDou-3 Constellation. And finally, on 23 June 2020, with its successful deployment of the last satellite in its respected constellation, made in china BeiDou system became a fully operational Global Navigation Satellite System. if I talk about the accuracy of BeiDou-3, it should be giving information accurately to the nearest 5 meters (0fcourse for Civilian use).
As of now, I have explained everything about the made in china BeiDou system like how many types of satellites they use? or the evolution of different generations of the BeiDou system. I have even explained the relation of Einstein with GNSS or Made in china BeiDou system. I think now is the perfect time to let you about some applications of the BeiDou system. Here we go ahead…!!!
Applications Of BeiDou System
During the planning session of the BeiDou system, Chinese people were thinking to use BeiDou just for military purposes. But later with time, they realized that BeiDou could be used for both militaries as well as civilian use too.
Well, there is a wide range of applications Of the BeiDou system. I mean, if I talk about the application of the BeiDou system in the field of transportation, by the end of 2018, more than 7 million vehicles in China were using the BeiDou system for navigation facilities. On the other hand, BeiDou is playing a prominent role in the short message communication system.
Well, according to the available data, mainstream chip manufacturers, both in China as well as outside China have introduced integrated chips fully compatible with supporting the BeiDou system. In the field of weather forecasting, BeiDou is playing a progressive role. With the ever enhanced facility with the launch of the final satellite of BeiDou-3, it would become much easier to predict weather forecast with more accurate data.
If I talk about the international exchange and cooperation related to the BeiDou system, China has already signed multiple agreements with the United States of America’s GPS, Russia’s GLONASS, and Europen Union’s Galileo navigation system. On the other hand, if I talk about the long term goal plans of china related to the BeiDou system, China is aiming to fully integrate its made in china BeiDou system to its trillion dollars Belt and Road initiative.
And with that in mind, china has been already in talks with the member states of Belt and Road initiative. Meaning, that in the near future, billions of people living along the Belt and Road region would be using made in china BeiDou system to locate a restaurant, or to check the weather, or for simply sending a short message.
Above all the mentioned applications were strictly related to the civilian or commercial use of the BeiDou system. Now if I talk about the military use of Beidou system – a country having its own navigation system exponentially boosts its military might. I mean to say that a country does not have to rely on another country’s navigation system.
Therefore, with having its own made in china BeiDou system; at the time of war, china can easily fire missiles and drones without worrying about signal loss or data transmission. To date, only two countries are using BeiDou system for military purposes. One is of course China and the other is Pakistan.
At the very last leg of this article, I can say that I have explained each and every aspect of the BeiDou system within my reach. Plus I have also explained the relation of Einstein with GPS. Well, not with GPS, but with GNSS. On the contrary, if you see that I have left something or something needed to be more elaborated, feel free to enlighten me with your mystifying thought.
I am a mechanical engineer by profession. Just because of my love for fundamental physics, I switched my carrier, and therefore I just completed my postgraduate degree in physics. Right now I am a loner (as like ever) and a Physics blogger too. My sole future goal is to do a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, especially in the field of cosmology. Because in my view, every part of physics comes within the range of cosmology. And I love traveling, especially the Sole one.