BEIJING China launched its second navigation satellite over the weekend as part of a plan to build the country's "Compass" navigational system, which will rival America's Global Positioning System and offer services to China and Asia by 2008.
The Beidou-2 satellite lifted off at 4:11 am on Saturday from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China's Sichuan province, according to the state's Xinhua news agency. It will join a network that will eventually include five geostationary orbit satellites and 30 medium earth orbit satellites.
China said it will use the network to provide positioning services in various sectors, including transportation, meteorology, petroleum prospecting, forest fire monitoring, disaster forecasting, telecommunications and public security. "A satellite navigation and positioning system is of great significance in defending national interests as it touches political, economic and military fields," the newspaper said.
Noting that the US first built its GPS system
in the 1970s, the paper said China's vast size warranted a domestic system that would improve on the "rough" details provided by the civilian-side GPS used around the world today. China has also taken part in a European system called Galileo, which will be operational in 2010 or 2011.
Observers believe China will launch another Beidou navigation satellite later this year. In general, China is substantially ramping up its space activity. The launch site used for Beidou is also suspected of being the place where China carried out its first anti-satellite test in January. China is also preparing for a lunar exploratory mission later this year, which will be the precursor to a lunar landing before 2010.