Japan launches third satellite in home-grown GPS system


Japan on Saturday launched the third of four satellites in its plan to create a homegrown geolocation system aimed at improving the accuracy of car navigation systems and smartphone maps to mere centimeters.

According to the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), an H-IIA rocket carrying the satellite blasted off from Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture at about 2:30 p.m. The Michibiki No. 3 satellite was released about 30 minutes later.

“The rocket flew as planned, and we confirmed that the Michibiki No. 3 was released with no abnormalities 28 minutes and 37 seconds after launch,” a JAXA statement said.

The launch was supposed to take place last week but got postponed by a technical glitch.

Satellite geolocation systems, initially designed for the U.S. military, are now driving countless civilian applications ranging from car navigation systems to internet browsers in mobile phones.

While Japan relies on the U.S. Global Positioning System, Saturday’s launch was part of a broader plan to build a domestic version using four satellites focused on Japan and its immediate surroundings. The first satellite entered orbit in 2010 and the second was launched in June. The fourth is to be launched by March 2018 to start the service.

Though the Japanese system will still need to operate in tandem with GPS, which is widely used in Japan, having supplementary satellites is important in a country where mountainous terrain and high buildings often interfere with signals.

Michibiki, a Japanese word for guidance, will cover the Asia-Oceania region and is intended for civilian use.

Japan plans to have seven satellites in orbit by around 2023.