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From compass to BeiDou: Chinese wisdom helps navigate Belt & Road

China sends two new satellites of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS) into space on a Long March-3B carrier rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province at 2:07 a.m. on Nov. 19, 2018. (Xinhua/Ju Zhenhua)  

XICHANG, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) — When the Chinese invented the compass, humanity steered into uncharted waters. Now China is navigating the world in the new era of global exchange with a new option — its fledging BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS).

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With the launch of two new BDS-3 satellites on Monday, China will complete the basic navigation system and start to provide services for countries participating in the Belt and Road initiative by the end of this year.

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“This is a key step for BDS developing from a domestic Chinese system to a regional and then a global navigation system,” said Yang Changfeng, chief designer of the BeiDou system

China plans to launch another 11 BDS-3 satellites in the coming two years. By the end of 2020, the BeiDou system, named after the Chinese term for the Big Dipper constellation, will become global, and provide high-precision, reliable positioning, navigation and timing services anywhere in the world

China developed BDS through a unique technological approach, contributing Chinese wisdom to the theory and construction of international satellite navigation systems,” said Xie Jun, deputy chief designer of the Beidou system

Altogether 18 BDS satellites have been sent into space from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China‘s Sichuan Province in 2018

Chi Jun, head of the BDS-3 satellite team from the China Academy of Space Technology (CAST), has been in the valley of the launch center for more than six months

However, Chi has never seen a BDS satellite launch, as he has to monitor data on a computer each time

“This year has seen the most intensive launch of the BDS satellites. We improved our work efficiency by reforming the management process. The number of satellite staff at the launch center has been reduced by nearly half, and the testing time before launch has been shortened by nearly a third,” said Chi

In the CAST production base in Beijing, several BDS satellites are being manufactured at the same time

“We try to improve intelligent manufacturing capability, and cut down production times. Construction of the BDS-3 system has accelerated,” Chi said

Wang Jingang, deputy chief designer of the BDS-3 satellites, has participated in the development of BDS-1, BDS-2 and BDS-3 systems. “It’s a rare chance to devote my intelligence to a symbolic national project.”

Experience of failure has left a deep impression on him. A BDS-2 satellite failed in orbit in 2009. To identify the fault, the whole team of the satellite developers stayed in their office building for more than a month, working till midnight every day

“It was an unforgettable experience, and if the fault were not found, we would be punished by failure again.” Wang said

Eventually, they found the cause of the breakdown and the solution. Since then, all Chinese satellites have avoided similar problems

When friends or relatives learn that I work on the development of the BDS satellites, they often show me the BDS signals on their mobile phones. People still mainly depend on navigation by GPS, supplemented by BDS. I hope that in a few years, people can be navigated mainly by BDS,” Wang said.