Chinese launch rival to US Global Positioning System (GPS)...

FT.com / Asia-Pacific / China - China launches first navigation satellite

Beidou Navigation System

After nearly twenty years of geo-spacial monopoly, the US GPS system, which so many people around the world have come to rely on when traveling to an unknown destination. The European Union has recently closed in on full operational capability of their real-time navigational system Galileo, and the Chinese took major steps toward implementing a third in the launch of a key satellite over the weekend in their Beidou Navigation System.

There exists fundamental differences between the US system and its EU contemporary which are as indicative of the fundamental differences in the guiding economic philosophies of the two continents. The GPS system that has been in operation under the Department of Defense since the 1970's has, since its declassification, been open for use at no cost to any company that can harness its vast capacities for use at the level of the individual consumer or corporate entity. Since that time the US has embraced GPS culture and all of our ground based commercial traffic is guided by the pulsing satellites that make up the GPS network. Galileo will take a different approach, instead charging its users a fee for usage with the value-added benefits not entirely clear as of yet, though to be fair, the system is hardly up and running.

The Beidou (Chinese name for the "Big Dipper" constellation) Navigation System is even further down the road than Magellan, and just as the US and EU networks are reflections of the fundamental economic differences that exist between the two Western civilizations, the Chinese strategy for its commercialization strategy is like all other economic policies in China: vague and highly speculative.

As the Chinese become wealthier and their country-sides are transformed into concrete jungles awash in semi-trucks and FedEx vans, their decision to enter the Global-Positioning market early and aggressively will likely prove to have been wise. If they choose, as I suspect they will, to follow the path of the free markets paved by their American competitor they will most likely outshine the Galileo network even if they are years behind in bringing the service to consumers.

Considering China is still a developing economy by official classification, it should be noted that they are making aggressive commercial, and not just militaristic advances in the space industry. If American policymakers, entrepreneurs and bankers heed the warnings that such an aggressive push by a growing competitor into an industry with limitless potential the US should have no problem competing with the Middle Kingdom anywhere in the known universe.

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