The impact of China’s version of GPS

Category: Best data-driven reporting (small and large newsrooms)

Country/area: Japan

Organisation: Nikkei Inc.

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 19/08/2019

Credit: Kazuhiro Kida, Shinichi Hashimoto

Project description:

We investigated China’s ambition in the space. China launched 18 positioning satellites BeiDou in 2018 alone and now operates more satellites than U.S.’s GPS. We used the satellite planning data and calculated the daily maximum number of observable satellites at each capital city in the world. As a result, we figured out that the majority of countries have security concerns from the growing number of BeiDou.

Impact reached:

We published the article both in Japanese and English. Both received high engagement from our readers especially from outside Japan. Our analysis was mentioned in the annual report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, also in the executive summary (See the Project link 2).

Techniques/technologies used:

We scraped the data from the tool offered by U.S. receiver company Trimble. Trimble’s GNSS (Global Navigate Satellite System) planning tool is very helpful to understand where satellites circulate. We used Selenium with Python and collected the number of observable satellites for each country. To plot the data for each capital city in the world, we used QGIS for mapping.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Japanese government operates its own positioning satellite QZSS and feels a threat by China’s ambition in the space. We tried to collect interviews from government officials and experts, but they were reluctant to speak about China’s strategy. Our colleague visited Washington D.C. to ask comments for our analysis. 

Initially, we tried to visualize the orbit for every satellites by using 3D modelling, but accurate visualization was very difficult and we chose to visualize it on a static world map as a number of satellites observable from each capital city in the country.

What can others learn from this project?

What we learned from this article is that simplifying the complicated data is very important. Also, it is possible to tell a story about national security issues by using publicly available data.


Project links: