XI’AN — When Chinese explorer Zheng He commanded expeditionary voyages and opened up the Maritime Silk Road about 600 years ago, it was the stars that helped him navigate his fleet through the boundless oceans.
The ancient Chinese invented astronavigation and Zheng He was among the first to use it during many of his voyages. The position and course of his fleet were determined by observing the stars and constellations such as the Big Dipper, the Southern Cross and the Lyra constellation.
Inhabiting the northern hemisphere, Chinese people on land also used to navigate by observing the Big Dipper. Nowadays, the navigation satellite system developed by China is called BeiDou, the Chinese word for the Big Dipper.
The BeiDou system opened to China in 2000 and the Asia-Pacific region in 2012. When the system is completed in 2020, it will be the fourth largest global satellite navigation system after the US GPS system, Russia’s GLONASS and the European Union’s Galileo.
As one of the core providers of global navigation services, the BeiDou system hopes to cooperate with other global satellite systems, providing free research and being used in rescue services around the world. It has been recognized by the International Civil Aviation Organization, International Maritime Organization and 3rd Generation Partnership Project.