Home' Position : Position 86 Dec-Jan 2017 Contents January 2008 that China was unsatisfied
with its role in the Galileo project and
it subsequently withdrew in order to
concentrate on an advanced positioning
system of its own.
The Chinese had begun
work on satellite
navigation in the late
1980s, when a three
satellite constellation for internal use in
China was proposed. The first satellite,
BeiDou-1A, was launched on 30 October
2000. The system was completed in 2003.
It was inferior to GPS however: it only
offered an accuracy of 10 meters and that
only within China.
The Chinese clearly saw involvement in
Galileo as a way to improve their technical
expertise in this area. Whether they always
intended to develop their own system is
difficult to know, but in the event, the
Chinese Space Administration announced
it would develop a new system, BeiDou-2
for regional positioning, and then a global
system, BeiDou-3, by the 2020s. The three
systems are often referred to as Compass.
BeiDou-2 was deployed between 2007
and 2011, when China placed seven
satellites in inclined geosynchronous
orbit. This formed the basis of a practical
regional positioning system. The first of
35 BeiDou-3 satellites was launched in
2015. By March 2016, China had four
BeiDou-1 satellites on orbit, 16 BeiDou-2
and six BeiDou-3.
BeiDou uses CDMA modulation to
provide two levels of positioning service:
open (public) and restricted (military),
both with global reach. The service is said
to provide unassisted accuracy of better
than ten metres.
Despite its insistence on its own system
and despite the failure of its European
gambit, China has continued to seek
international cooperation for its system.
In 2015, the state-owned news service
Xinhua announced a joint production
agreement between BeiDou and Russia's
The deal covered trade in Chinese
space electronics systems and Russian
rocket motors. It also included a joint
venture to manufacture electronics
for both BeiDou and the Russian
positioning system. The deal is especially
advantageous for the Russians because
the US had embargoed some of the
advanced electronics in the new
generation Glonass K satellites after the
Russian invasion of the Crimea.
Moscow has been
Sputnikovaya Sistema (Glonass) since
Soviet times. It began work in 1976 and
reached more-or-less global status but
was then derailed by the economic
chaos that accompanied the fall of the
In the 2000s, under Vladimir Putin's
presidency, the Russian economy
recovered. Putin himself took special
interest in Glonass and the system's
restoration was made one of the
government's top priorities. The budget
was raised to $420 million with a
commitment to a restored constellation
The first satellite under this new
program, Glonass-M, was launched in
2003. It had a longer design life than the
original satellites, better accuracy and
the ability to broadcast two extra signals,
both of which are available to all users.
During the middle of the first decade
of the 21st century, the Russian economy
boomed, resulting in substantial increases
in the country's space budget. In 2007, the
financing of the program was increased
considerably; its budget was more than
doubled. The Russians plan to spend
a billion dollars a year on Glonass this
decade. As a result Russia restored the
network to complete operation at the end
of 2015. Work is now under way on rolling
out third generation Glonass-K2 birds as
replacements for the current network.
The least likely player in
the field is India. It has
built itself a positioning
network on the cheap,
spending just over $200 million to cover the
subcontinent (and about half of Western
Australia), but it gives the Indian military
independence of Chinese and US systems.
The Indian Navic system reached
operational status in April, when IRNSS-
1G was launched from Sriharikoa.
The constellation consists of three
satellites in geostationary and four in
geosynchronous orbit. It provides two
types of services: a Standard Positioning
Service which is available to all users and
a Restricted Service for the military.
Interestingly for Australian users,
while the Navic specification says the
system provides coverage only to 1,500
kilometres offshore, a group of Finnish
researchers claims to have successfully
decoded signals from the geostationary
IRNSS receivers many thousands of
kilometres from India. It may well turn
out that Navic can be used anywhere in
On the ground
The interesting part of all this is not, of
course, the list of birds in the sky, but the
signals that are generated by the satellites
for use by your receiver.
What we can say with some certainty
is that the situation is changing rapidly as
manufacturers come up to speed with the
changing reality of GNSS. For instance,
Topcon says its Vanguard Technology
will read all proposed signals generated
by the GNSS. Vanguard is a 226 channel
application specific integrated circuit
that will be included in all new devices
produced by the company.
Not to be outdone, Leica's new Zeno 20
GIS collector reads GPS L1 as standard,
but can be upgraded to read GPS L2 and
L2C, Glonass L1 and L2, BeiDou B1 and
Galileo E1 as required.
If manufacturers are moving fast to
go from GPS to GNSS, we may have the
Russians to thank. The first commercial
Russian-made Glonass navigation device
for cars, the Glospace SGK-70, was
introduced in 2007, but it was much
bigger and costlier than similar GPS
receivers and did not achieve much
The Russian establishment—
including, reputedly, Vladimir Putin
himself—were not impressed. It imposed
a 25 per cent tariff on positioning
devices that did not support the system.
As a result, GPS and phone baseband
vendors who want to do business in
Russia (and that's all of them) have
raced to comply.
Sony, Samsung and Apple all provide
Glonass support in their range. All
iPhones since iPhone4 have in-built
support for Glonass. The Android
operating system now also uses Glonass
as a matter of course, although it still
does not appear to support Galileo.
Certainly, well before 2020, GNSS
will be a reality for consumers and
professional users alike.
"If manufacturers are moving fast to go from GPS
to GNSS, we may have the Russians to thank."
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