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Directions 2022: BDS enters new era of global services

Yang Changfeng is BeiDou’s Chief Architect. (Photo: BeiDou Navigation Satellite System)

Yang Changfeng is BeiDou’s Chief Architect. (Photo: BeiDou Navigation Satellite System)

Construction of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System (BDS-3) has been completed. The system was formally commissioned on July 31, 2020. In 2021, BDS continued to improve performance, expand applications and deepen cooperation, and has achieved sustained, stable and rapid development.

System Performance and Services

Currently, 45 BDS satellites are operational in orbit — 15 BDS-2 satellites and 30 BDS-3 satellites jointly provide seven types of services to users. Specifically, for the entire planet, the system provides three services:

  • Positioning, navigation and timing (PNT).
  • Global short-message communication.
  • International search-and-rescue (SAR) services.

For the Asia-Pacific region, the system provides four additional services:

  • Satellite-based augmentation.
  • Ground-based augmentation.
  • Precise point positioning.
  • Regional short-message communication services.

The system has been operating continuously and stably since commissioning, with the average value of satellite availability better than 0.99 and the average value of satellite continuity better than 0.999.

PNT Service. As actually measured by the International GNSS Monitoring and Assessment System (iGMAS), the global horizontal positioning accuracy is about 1.52 meters, the vertical positioning accuracy is about 2.64 meters (B1C signal single frequency, 95% confidence), the velocity measurement accuracy is better than 0.1 m/s, and timing accuracy is better than 20 nanoseconds. The performance is better in the Asia-Pacific region.

FIGURE 1 shows the number of visible BDS satellites worldwide at BDT 00:00 on Nov. 18, 2021. Among them, the number of visible BDS satellites exceeds 20 in some areas of the Asia-Pacific region.

figure 1. Number of visible BDS satellites, elevation ≥5° (2021/11/18/00:00 BDT). (CREDIT:

Figure 1. Number of visible BDS satellites, elevation ≥5° (2021/11/18/00:00 BDT). (CREDIT:

Global Short Message Communication Service. Trial service is provided through 14 medium-Earth-orbit (MEO) satellites for authorized users and low-orbit satellites, with a maximum single-message length of 560 bits, equivalent to about 40 Chinese characters.

Search-and-Rescue Service. A COSPAS/SARSAT-compliant MEOSAR service is provided by six payloads deployed on six MEO satellites. A B2b signal-based Return Link Service (RLS) is provided through 24 MEO and three IGSO satellites, which have completed testing and verification and are in the process of coordination within the framework of COSPAS-SARSAT.

Satellite-Based Augmentation Service. China’s Civil Aviation Administration is organizing satellite-ground integrated test and evaluation, and the positioning accuracy, alarm time, integrity risk and other indicators meet the requirements.

Ground-Based Augmentation Service. Real-time centimeter-level and post-processing millimeter-level services are provided for industrial and public users, based on the regional network reference stations built in China.

Precise Point Positioning Service. PPP signals are broadcast by three GEO satellites. The measured horizontal positioning accuracy is 0.24 m, the vertical positioning accuracy is 0.41 m (95% confidence), and the convergence time is less than 20 minutes.

Regional Short Message Communication Service. The short-message communication function has been tested and verified for integration into public mobile phones; large-scale application is planned.

Development of the Applications Industry

Large-scale applications of BDS have entered a critical stage of liberalization, industrialization and internationalization. The overall output value of China’s satellite navigation and location-based service industry continued to grow in 2020, up to 403.3 billion yuan (US$63.2 billion), which is about 16.9% more than its value in 2019. In terms of BDS-3-enabled basic products, an industrial chain is gradually maturing, comprised of BDS/GNSS basic chips, modules, boards, antennas and other components.

The certification and testing system of basic BDS products has been established and implemented. BDS is already supported by most mainstream chips. BDS is increasingly being integrated into the daily life of the general public. It is becoming the standard configuration for positioning functions of smartphones and other mass-market products.

Smartphone manufacturers such as Xiaomi, Huawei, Apple and Samsung already support BDS. In the first three quarters of 2021, among all types of smartphones applying for online access in China, 72.3% supported positioning function based on BDS, accounting for 93.5% of the total sales volume. The BDS ground-based augmentation function has been introduced into smartphones to achieve high-precision positioning at the 1-meter level; lane-level navigation is being piloted in several cities in China.

In terms of industrial applications, BDS has fully served multiple industries including transportation, public security, disaster relief, agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry and fishing. It has accelerated the integration into electricity, finance, communications and other infrastructure. In particular, in the fight against COVID-19 through scientific and technological approaches, BDS-based precise positioning has facilitated the efficient supply and circulation of anti-epidemic materials.

BDS-based solutions for land rights determination, precision agriculture and smart ports have served the economic and social development of countries in Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa, and BDS-based products have been applied in more than half of the world’s countries and regions.

International Cooperation

BDS has always adhered to the development concepts of openness, cooperation and resource sharing; actively carried out practical international exchanges and cooperation; and contributed to China’s peaceful use of outer space.

Bilaterally, the Eighth Meeting of the China-Russia Project Committee on Major Strategic Cooperation in Satellite Navigation was held in October 2021. Both sides jointly formulated and signed the Roadmap for Cooperation in the Field of Satellite Navigation from 2021 to 2025, providing planning and guidance for China-Russia satellite navigation cooperation in the next five years. Also, China’s Satellite Navigation Office signed a memorandum of understanding on satellite navigation cooperation with the National Committee on Space Activities of the Republic of Argentina and the South African National Space Agency, and formally established a regular cooperation mechanism.

BDS is gradually being integrated into international standards, and is steadily promoting ratification by international standards bodies, including in the civil aviation, maritime, SAR, mobile communications and electrotechnical fields. Several international standards supporting BDS have been released. The Chinese government has drafted a letter of commitment to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), stating that BDS will provide basic services free of charge to civil aviation users around the world. The International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) has officially issued a standard that ratifies BDSBAS, so that global marine users can carry out applications based on it. The Third Generation Partnership Project has started the standardization of BDS-3’s B2a and B3I signals. In the detection standard for Indicating Radio Beacon Locator of the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System issued by the International Electrotechnical Commission, BDS receivers and BDS-based SAR services will be supported.

The Chinese government is steadily advancing the rule of law, attaching great importance to and comprehensively promoting the rule of law for satellite navigation. A legal system on BDS has been formed, consisting of national policies, industrial and local policies and regulations, and more. The legislative process of the Satellite Navigation Regulations of the People’s Republic of China has been actively promoted to ensure the healthy, rapid and sustainable development of the satellite industry. In May 2021, China issued a development report on the rule of law of BDS.

Follow-Up Plan

In the future, on the one hand BDS will ensure stable operation, while on the other hand it will focus on the development of backup satellites, and complete the production, state optimization and ground testing of backup satellites. Backup BDS-3 satellites with better performance will be launched as needed to further improve the reliability of the constellation. By adhering to the development concept of “BDS is developed by China, dedicated to the world and aiming to be first class,” carrying forward the BDS spirit of the new era of “independent innovation, open integration, unity of all, pursuit of excellence,” BDS will serve the world and benefit all humankind.

  • Number of BDS-3 satellites in orbit: 30
  • Signals broadcast: B1I, B3I, B1C, B2a, and B2b

Yang Changfeng is chief architect of the BeiDou Navigation Satellite System and a Chinese Academy of Engineering academician.

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