China asserts itself in GPS turf war
It plans to use the same signal frequency for its version of GPS that Europe had carved out. The overlap could block Europe from using its satellites for security reasons.
At the European Union’s embassy in Beijing, a recently built extension bears the name “Galileo.” It celebrates one of Europe’s most high-profile and symbolic partnerships with China, but it might soon have to be rechristened.Skip to next paragraph
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China’s membership of “Galileo,” the European-led version of America’s Global Positioning System (GPS), has soured to the point where the two sides are locked in a dispute over radio frequencies, as China races ahead with its own network of satellites.
Cooperation has turned to confrontation.
Without an agreement, China would be able to frustrate European military forces’ efforts to deny a future enemy crucial satnav capability. Some expert observers suggest that may even be Beijing’s goal.
As the EU prepares to sign contracts this year with satellite builders and China plans the June launch of the first satellite in its own “Compass 2” constellation, “both are at stages of program development that make this an urgent question,” says Glenn Gibbons, editor of “Inside GNSS” magazine.
GPS, Galileo, and Compass, along with the Russian “Glonass,” are building the satellite infrastructure for an increasingly important technology used for purposes ranging from nuclear missile guidance, through mapping, to steering a mobile-phone user to the nearest Starbucks.
Their designers are publicly committed to making these systems inter-operable, and their signals part of the global commons. If China and Europe resolve their spat, “they should be synergistic,” says Mr. Gibbons. “Together they could create a more robust and reliable system of signals.”
From cooperation to competition
More than a decade ago the EU, unhappy with its dependence on the US-owned and controlled GPS, set out to build its own system and invited other countries to join.
When China signed up in 2003 it was a major coup for then-French President Jacques Chirac’s vision of a “multipolar” world in which US influence would be diluted. Later, however, the Europeans got cold feet, denying Beijing a seat on the Supervisory Authority, which owns and oversees Galileo, for security reasons.
“The Chinese felt insulted and disrespected,” says Taylor Dinerman, a US space expert. China’s treatment at Europe’s hands “really moved the Chinese schedule ahead” in the construction of Beijing’s own system, adds Eric Hagt, a space analyst at the World Security Institute, a Washington-based think tank.