MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia launched on Saturday one of the final satellites needed to complete a space-based navigation system, which Moscow hopes will challenge the dominant U.S. Global Positioning System (GPS).
The satellite, Glonass-K, which was launched shortly after 6:00 a.m. local time, reached orbit, said Aleksei Zolotukhin, spokesman for the Defense Ministry’s space forces.
The entry of the space craft into space “went according to plan. Steady telemetric communications have been established with the space craft,” he said.
After the embarrassing loss of three satellites last year, two more are expected to be launched in 2011 to complete the $2 billion project that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said will give Russia “satellite navigation sovereignty.”
Moscow is hoping the navigation technology Glonass will create a revolution in domestic consumer technology, with applications expected to be used in mobile telephones and automobiles.
Three Glonass satellites launched in December last year veered off course and crashed into the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, costing Moscow around $160 million and setting the program back an estimated six months.
Without Glonass, Russia’s military fears that it is at the mercy of the United States, which it says could block or blur its GPS signal in a time of crisis — allegations which were rife during a brief 2008 war between Georgia and Russia.
Reporting by Thomas Grove