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Satellite system finds sweet spot in rescue, transport applications

More than 40,000 fishing boats in China have been equipped with receivers tuned to China"s homegrown Beidou Navigation Satellite System, to provide better search and rescue for ships in trouble, a Beidou expert said.

"Fishermen call the Beidou system their "patron"," Yang Yuanxi, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and deputy chief designer of the system, said in an interview with China Daily during the 2018 World Transport Convention on Tuesday.

China has 140,000 fishermen, whose life on the sea inevitably comes with occasional mishaps, such as extreme weather, collisions or submerged rocks, Yang said. If an accident involves a ship equipped with Beidou receivers, the system can transmit messages for help and pin the precise location for other ships in the vicinity, Yang said.

"The system can quickly and precisely position the boat, which is helpful for nearby ships, as they can locate the troubled vessel and launch rescue efforts," he said.

The system can also offer weather forecasts and short message communication, he said.

Beidou is one of the four space-based navigation networks in operation globally, along with the United States" GPS, Russia"s GLONASS and the European Union"s Galileo.

Since 2000, when the first Beidou satellite was placed in orbit, 33 satellites have been launched for the network. Beidou began serving civilian users in China and parts of the Asia-Pacific region in December 2012.

The network will have 35 satellites before the end of 2020 - with several now in orbit having been decommissioned - to give Beidou global coverage, according to plans from the satellite navigation office.

The Beidou system has grown through three generations, with the latest one continuing to improve its accuracy, Ran Chengqi, director of the China Satellite Navigation Office, said at a conference in May. He said an initial network of Beidou"s third-generation satellites has been formed with eight orbiting satellites.

Compared with the system"s second generation, the new system features clearer navigation signals, better stability and additional applications, including an intersatellite link and global emergency search capabilities.

The third-generation Beidou network will eventually have a positioning accuracy of 2.5 to 5 meters, which can be improved with the assistance of ground-based augmentation stations, Ran said.

"One of Beidou"s most important uses is in transportation. A number of vehicles in Beijing have already been equipped with the Beidou system," Yang said.

"The system helps the management of cross-border logistics and improves container tracking ability, freight scheduling and process supervision," he said, adding that location reports by Beidou help retrieve lost goods and help assign liability for losses.

Since July 2017, containers on the freight train from Xi"an, Shaanxi province, to Hamburg, Germany, have been equipped with Beidou receivers, and all containers have been tracked.

Zhao Lei contributed to this story.