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January 18, 2010

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China puts navigation satellite into orbit

CHINA took another step forward in its ambition to build a global navigation network capable of rivaling foreign systems with a successful satellite launch early yesterday.

It is the third China has launched for the network, known as the Beidou, or Compass, system. It was carried into orbit by a Long March-3III rocket from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan Province.

The network will eventually have a total of 35 satellites, capable of providing global navigation services to users around the world from around 2020.

Five will be in geostationary orbits - in a fixed position in relation to Earth - and another 30 in non-geostationary orbits.

The system will provide navigation, time signals and short message services in the Asia-Pacific region from around 2012.

China began to build a satellite navigation system to break its dependence on the US Global Positioning System in 2000 when it sent two satellites into orbit as an experimental positioning system, also known as the Beidou system. It was China's first satellite navigation and positioning network and made the country third in the world after the US and Russia to have an independent satellite navigation system.

The original Beidou system provided regional services for telecom, transport and disaster relief, and played important roles during the Beijing Olympics and in relief work for the Sichuan earthquake in May 2008.

A second-generation system was begun with the launch of two satellites in 2007 and 2009.

A statement from the system's special management office said China would make its global navigation system compatible and interoperable with other international competitors, including the US GPS system, the EU's Galileo Positioning System and Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System.

This compatibility and interoperability, under the framework of the International Committee on Global Navigation Satellite Systems and International Telecommunication Union, will ensure all users benefit from the system's development, it said.

National security

China was willing to cooperate with other countries to improve this compatibility and interoperability and promote an all-round application of the system's services, the statement said.

Sun Jiadong, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the system's chief designer, said after yesterday's launch that the system would play a major role in providing services for national security, environment, traffic, and logistics and other economic activities.

"There is nothing that cannot be accomplished by the Compass system," said Sun.

"The successful launch of the Compass system's third orbiter today marks a substantial step for the system," he said. With promising applications in social and economic activities, the Compass system will also boost the development of China's information technology, he said.

"In a few years, people will find some new applications for the system that they had never imagined before," he added.

Civilian applications of the US GPS system in China are limited. Only a few companies sell GPS maps for portable or vehicle-mounted positioning and navigation devices.

Sun said the government should encourage more Chinese enterprises to participate in the development of the system's application chain to make maximum possible use of the satellites.


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