MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia successfully launched a rocket on Tuesday carrying the last three satellites to complete a navigation system to rival America’s GPS.
The military-run GLONASS mapping system works over most of Russia and is expected to cover the globe by the end of 2009, once all its 24 navigational satellites are operating.
A space rocket blasted off from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome on the steppes of neighbouring ex-Soviet Kazakhstan, from which Russia rents the facility.
“The launch was carried out smoothly at 10:32 p.m. (1932 GMT),” RIA news agency quoted a spokesman for the Russian space agency as saying. “We expect satellites to separate from the booster on the orbit at 2:24 a.m. (2324 GMT)”.
Work on GLONASS -- or Global Navigation Satellite System -- began in the Soviet Union in the mid-1970s to give its armed forces exact bearings around the world.
The collapse of the Russian economy in the late 1990s drained funds and the plans withered, but President Vladimir Putin has ensured the project is now being lavishly funded from a brimming government budget.
Officials said GLONASS would mainly be used alongside the U.S. global positioning system, which Washington can switch off for civilian subscribers, as it did during recent military operations in Iraq.
Writing by Chris Baldwin, editing by Richard Meares