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Thailand to become first overseas user of Beidou

Thailand is set to become the first foreign country to operate China’s Beidou satellite navigation system. China has been developing Beidou to rival the dominance of America’s Global Positioning System, or GPS. Thirty-five satellites will be in orbit by the year 2020 to have the second generation of the system completed. Despite only going live last year, Beidou has already attracted the interest of clients from around the world.

This is Thailand’s Space Technology Development Agency, 150 kilometres from Bangkok. It’s the country’s ground station for communicating with satellites in orbit.

Construction is underway here of new buildings to house the engineers and technicians who will operate the Beidou satellite navigation system in Thailand.

beidousBeidou is China’s home-grown rival to the American network, GPS. As well as satellite imagery, Beidou will have mapping, weather and communications capabilities.

“The Beidou system is coming up after the GPS by almost 20 years so I believe the accuracy of the system should be higher with new-generation electronics, maybe up to 10 times better,” said Ravit Sachasiri, ground system admin. at the Space Technology Agency.

Thailand is the first country outside China to sign up to Beidou. When devastating floods hit Thailand 18 months ago, satellite images were used to predict which areas would be worst affected.

When Beidou is operational later in the year, much greater detail will be available to emergency planners. And Beidouwas used by China’s security forces to track and locate the drug lord Naw Kham, who was responsible for the murder of 13 Chinese sailors in northern Thailand.

“GPS is established worldwide and it’s a leading system, and it’s used in cars, in trucks and on mobile phones. Every mobile phone now must have a GPS system. But with China now entering the world of the GNSS system, they are also manufacturing hardware and software, so it will give them room for the industry and the government to showcase they can produce high-end technology,” Sachasiri said.

China has developed Beidou to end its reliance on the GPS system, for both civil and military use. It’s meeting much of the 320 million dollar cost of establishing Beidou in Thailand.

Thailand’s adoption of the Beidou network is an important step for China. If the system is seen to be successful here, China hopes other countries will follow Thailand’s lead.

Two nations, Laos and Brunei, have signed agreements to research the system. Beidou is at an early stage, with little market penetration yet, even in China. At present, it maps countries in the Asia-Pacific region, but it will cover the globe by the end of the decade.

Thailand will not abandon GPS but will use both systems side-by-side, for enhanced accuracy and as back-up should either be unavailable.

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