Russia launched a rocket on Christmas carrying three satellites that will separate from the booster on orbit to become part of a navigation system said to rival GPS in the U.S.
Boosted by funding under Putin, the navigation system has been in the works for more than 30 years. Stalled by the collapse of the Russian economy during the 1990s, the system called GLONASS or Global Navigation Satellite System is run by the military. The mapping system will have 24 navigational satellites in orbit by the end of 2009.
According to Reuters, GLONASS will be used alongside the U.S. global positioning system. Washington can switch it off for civilian subscribers, as it did during recent military operations in Iraq.