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Chinese Navigation Systems

Although the PRC was slow to establish a navigation satellite network, research for such a system had been underway for many years, and a future space-based navigation capability was long an acknowledged goal. A prototype navigation satellite was built by the early 1980's but was never launched. In appearance the spacecraft resembled the Shi Jian 2 scientific satellite launched on 19 September 1987. This spacecraft bus is octagonal with a diameter of 1.2 m and a height of 1 m with a mass of about 250 kg, including the payload. The navigation system was possibly of the US Transit and Russian Tsikada class (References 433-434). Subsequent writings indicated a desire to deploy navigation satellites by the end of the 1990s (References 435-437). China is apparently continuing development of this "Twinstar" navigation system, but no details have been made public.

A hand-held receiver compatible with US GPS satellites, the VT 900, has already been developed by the Chinese Carrier Rocket Technology Institute (Reference 438).

China is using the Global Positioning System and the Global Navigation Satellite System (GLONASS), both of which are being used increasingly throughout the world for both commercial and military applications, to improve the accuracy of its weapons and the situational awareness of its operational forces. The Chinese aerospace industry is pursuing the integration of GPS into its new fighter aircraft. China's military industrial complex has entered into joint ventures with foreign firms to produce GPS receivers which may find their way to military weapons.

China Aerospace Corporation displayed a GPS receiver at an exhibition in Beijing in September 1996, and provided brochures advertising both a 12-channel GPS receiver and a 12-channel GPS/GLONASS receiver. One brochure showed a space launch vehicle, suggesting GPS use in missile applications. There is no question that China intends to produce receivers that can receive GPS and/or GLONASS signals.

Use of GPS updates will enable China to make significant improvements in its missile capabilities. For example, GPS updates will provide the potential to significantly improve missile accuracy through midcourse guidance correction. Moreover, the use of such updates will increase the operational flexibility of China's newer mobile missiles.

China's applications of navigation and positioning satellites have embarked on the road of industrialized development, and are now developing at a high speed, and important progress has been made in developing navigation- and positioning-satellite applications. Through both domestic and foreign navigation and positioning satellites, China has been applying these technologies more broadly; as a result, the market for this industry has expanded rapidly. China strives to promote the application of its Beidou satellite navigation system, and the system has been used in transportation, sea fishing, hydrological monitoring, communications and timing service, power dispatching, and disaster reduction and relief.

China planned to build and improve ground TT&C segments and develop a system for monitoring and assessing performance of the global satellite navigation system, strengthen technological research, product development and standardization system of navigation and positioning satellites, enhance application level, promote position-based services, expand the industrial scope, and focus on promoting further use of the Beidou satellite navigation system in various fields of China's national economy.


  • Adapted from: Europe and Asia in Space 1993-1994, Nicholas Johnson and David Rodvold [Kaman Sciences / Air Force Phillips Laboratory]
  • 433. Great Wall Industry Corporation brochure, circa 1985, p. 19.
  • 434. G. L. May, "China Advances in Space", Spaceflight, November 1988, p. 432, 435.
  • 435. Liu Ji-Yuan and Min Gui-rong, "The Progress of China's Astronautics", presented at the U.S. Space Foundation Symposium, Colorado Springs, Colorado, 22 January 1987, p. 6.
  • 436. Min Gui-rong, "China's Long March Catching Up in Space", Space Technology International, 1992, p. 92.
  • 437. Xinhua News Agency, 13 February 1993.
  • 438. Xinhua News Agency, 9 December 1992.

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Page last modified: 18-11-2013 18:23:05 ZULU