Satellites part of plan to make navigation tool global by 2014
China will launch another three satellites for the Beidou system, the country's global positioning and navigation network, enabling it to provide a free positioning, navigation and time service for customers in the Asia-Pacific by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the system is expected to be adopted by some of China's neighboring countries in the next year or two, an official said.
"The trial service of the Beidou system shows it can provide a high-quality regional service," said Ran Chengqi, director of the China Satellite Navigation Office, at the third China Satellite Navigation Conference, which opened in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province, on Wednesday.
By 2020, Beidou will have more than 30 satellites, allowing it to compete with the GPS system operated by the United States, Ran said.
"Many of China's neighboring countries, such as Pakistan and Mongolia, have shown strong interest in the system," Ran said.
"Technical discussions are under way, and hopefully Beidou products can enter these markets in one to two years."
Academic discussions and exhibitions showing Beidou's latest navigational and industrial applications will be held during the conference, which runs from Wednesday to Saturday. Around 1,500 experts and officials from countries including the United States, Russia and Japan are expected to attend the meeting.
Beidou currently has 11 satellites, and the positioning precision has reached 10 meters in most parts of the Chinese mainland. Its performance will improve after three more satellites are launched into space this year, Ran said.
Two satellites will be launched together on a single rocket in August, and another will be launched in October, Ran said.
China has launched three Beidou satellites this year, with two launched on a single rocket on April 30.
"China will formally announce plans to provide free positioning, navigation and time services for customers in the whole Asia-Pacific region by the end of the year," Ran said.
China will continue to improve the performance of Beidou, and by 2014, it will expand its service area, aiming for global coverage, Ran said.
"Some countries, including Indonesia and Australia, have cooperated with China for the research and application of the system," said Liu Jingnan, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, who specializes in satellite surveying and mapping.
For example, some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and some European countries, have cooperated with Chinese research institutes, including Wuhan University, to set up stations in these countries to trace Beidou satellite signals for future application of the system, such as in fisheries and agriculture, said Liu.
"Such stations can greatly enhance the preciseness of satellite positioning to as high as just a few centimeters, which is important for the application of this system in industrial use," Liu said.
Currently, products based on the Beidou system, such as car and ship navigators, have been used in China, but the number is still very small compared to GPS users, said Cao Chong, director of the Advisory Center of the China Association for Global Navigation Satellite Systems.
"Beidou was put into service just a few years ago, so it is hard for it to compete with GPS," Cao said. "I think products that are compatible with both Beidou and other global positioning system technologies, such as that of GPS, will flourish in the next few years in China, and hold a majority share of the market."
David Turner, deputy director of the Office of Space and Advanced Technology within the US State Department, echoed Cao's opinion.
"It is better to encourage cooperation for compatibility," he said. "For example, if a navigator is compatible with Beidou and GPS and Russia's GLONASS, it will be much more precise."
Xin Dingding in Beijing contributed to this story.