China's future satellite navigation will be millimeter-accurate | Popular Science
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Eastern Arsenal

Monitoring China's growing military might—and what it means for the world. By Jeffrey Lin & Peter W. Singer

China's future satellite navigation will be millimeter-accurate

The Beidou 3 will guide military munitions and drones.

Beidou Launch Long March 3

Beidou Launch

The Beidou satellite is usually launched by LM-3 space launch vehicles.

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China's military is updating its satellite navigation system, launching tech that'll offer super accurate guidance for munitions and drones.

On Sept. 29, China launched two Beidou 3 satellites from a Long March 3C rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province.  Another two Beidou 3 satellites will launch before the end of 2017, part of a network of 20 Beidou 3 and 10 older Beidou 2 satellites set to go up by 2020. 

Civilian GPS receivers generally achieve higher accuracy by combining signals of several satellites, and indeed the completed Beidou Navigation Satellite System is expected to provide global coverage, with millimeter-level accuracy.

Beidou Satellite Navigation

Beidou 3

Beidou 3 satellites will offer superior accuracy compared to current Chinese navigation satellites.

China Academy of Sciences

Plus, thanks to a new, more accurate atomic clock, the Beidou 3 satellites will also be able to send more precisely timed radio pulses. Atomic clocks, which are set to the oscillations of atoms from stable isotopes, are highly accurate. The American NIST-F2 atomic clock, for example, is designed to lose only a second every 300 million years.

China Beidou 2 Compass Satellite Navigation

Beidou 2/Compass

The Beidou 2/Compass navigation satellites will have 35 satellites once completed, with 5 in geosynchronous orbit, and 30 in middle earth orbit.

China Academy of Space Technology, via Escobar on Sinodefence Forum

The system will also likely have new, jam-proof chips. Allystar Technology has unveiled a computer chip for use in Beidou receivers, providing instant accuracy without the aid of augmentation by ground control stations. This computer chip's ability to enhance satellite navigation signals could enable military Beidou users to withstand enemy attempts to jam satellite navigation. 

The Beidou 3 satellite navigation service is expected to be available only to Chinese military and national security users for the foreseeable future. The updates could be particularly useful for Chinese unmanned systems (like small quadcopter drones) as well as long-range cruise missiles. 

Peter Warren Singer is a strategist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation. He has been named by Defense News as one of the 100 most influential people in defense issues. He was also dubbed an official "Mad Scientist" for the U.S. Army's Training and Doctrine Command. Jeffrey is a national security professional in the greater D.C. area.

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