China is in a rush to build its version of the Global Positioning System (GPS), by planning to launch 10 Beidou navigation satellites between now and 2012, a newly launched official website said.
"The Beidou (Compass) Navigation Satellite System, which will be completed in 2020 with 35 satellites, will enable China to shake off its dependence on GPS and achieve huge economic benefits," Pang Zhihao, a senior researcher with the China Academy of Space Technology, told China Daily.
Navigation systems deliver data from satellites that allow travelers, drivers, and military officials directions on locations and travel advice.
The third Beidou satellite will lift off from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province at "an appropriate moment soon", atop a Long March-3C carrier, the center said on Friday in a statement.
Both the rocket and the satellite are now in sound condition and ready for launch, it said.
A new government-run website, www.beidou.gov.cn, was also launched on Friday. The website said that China aims to provide a positioning and navigation service by 2012 with a constellation of 12 Beidou satellites, covering the Asia-Pacific region.
But as only two have been launched so far, this means China has to launch 10 satellites in two to three years.
The system is expected to be completed with a constellation of 35 navigation satellites - five geo-stationary satellites and 30 non-geostationary satellites - and provide global service by 2020, the website said.
The Beidou system will rival the US-developed GPS, the EU's Galileo and Russia's Global Navigation Satellite System, experts said.
At present, nearly 200 million people worldwide are using GPS devices for positioning and navigation service, and GPS earns $120 billion a year, earlier reports said.
Meanwhile, an independent navigation satellite system will strengthen information security.
"Modern weapons, including guided missiles and missile defense systems, all need information supported by navigation satellites," said Peng Guangqian, a Beijing-based senior military strategist.
"Relying on other navigation satellite systems for such information is impossible in wartime," he said.
Moreover, multiple navigation systems will benefit users, since a single source could become unstable.
In May 2009, the US issued a warning of a possible GPS interruption because of delays in modernizing and deploying the Air Force satellites that provide the service.
Cao Chong, a leading expert with China's Association of Global Navigating Satellite Systems, urged international cooperation on global navigation satellite systems to avoid widespread problems if one system fails.
"If countries could strengthen cooperation, one system's failure will not have a major impact when there are other systems in place," he said.
The general public can expect to enjoy positioning, speed-measurement and time services by using the Beidou system for free, the website said. The accuracy of positioning is within 10m. A more accurate service will be available to authorized users only, according to the website.
"China welcomes international cooperation so as to better serve global users and increase the system's compatibility," the website said.