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Satellite network 'ready by 2020'

CHINA will be able to provide free global navigation and positioning services by 2020 with its own constellation of satellites named "Compass," an engineering expert said yesterday.

Compass will cover all of China and its adjacent regions by the end of 2010 or early 2011, and it will expand into a global network by 2020, Cao Chong, chief engineer of the China Electronics Technology Group Corp, told Xinhua.

Cao's statement contradicted earlier reports claiming that China would complete the system before 2015.

Compass will provide civilian clients with positioning accuracy to within 10 meters free of charge, compared with the 5m to 6m offered by the US-developed Global Positioning System, Cao said.

However, "the Compass system has its own advantages," he said.

The system would also be used to transmit text messages to and from remote or maritime areas largely beyond the reach of conventional satellites and provide services for military purposes, Cao said.

On Wednesday, China launched its second Compass navigation satellite, about two years after the first Compass module went into orbit.

Cao said China would launch another 10 satellites within the next two years. The 12-satellite system will cover China and neighboring regions for the first phase of the Compass program.

But it would take far more time to carry out the second phase, under which Compass will expand into a global network, he said. This will require at least 30 satellites.

A military official surnamed Tang said the Compass system would eventually include 35 satellites.

"The European Union's Galileo Positioning System cost more than 3 billion Euros (US$3.9 billion)," Cao said.

"I think the Compass system might cost China several dozen billion yuan," Cao added. "The first phase alone could cost more than 10 billion yuan (US$1.4 billion)."

China is one of a few countries able to develop a satellite navigation system. By 2007, China had put four experimental navigation satellites into orbit, forming the Beidou ("Big Dipper") system, which can provide positioning accuracy within 20 meters.


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