Japan launches rocket with satellite to build its own GPS

The first satellite is now working with the US satellite network, but radio waves from those satellites are sometimes blocked by skyscrapers and mountains and Global Positioning System may display locations that are several meters away from actual positions.

The H-IIA rocket blasts off from the Tanegashima space centre in Kagoshima Prefecture, southern Japan on June 1, 2017 carrying the "Michibiki" No.2 satellite.

The Japanese-built navigation satellite, named Michibiki 2, began its climb into orbit at 0017:46 GMT Thursday (8:17:46 p.m. EDT Wednesday) on top of an H-2A rocket launched from the Tanegashima Space Center in southwestern Japan.

The newly launched satellite will work in tandem with the first Michibiki satellite and complement a USA satellite network that Japan had previously fully depended on.

An initial satellite was launched in 2010, and JAXA plans to launch two more satellites by next year to complete the Michibiki system.

The H-2A's guidance computer meant to place Michibiki 2 in an orbit ranging from 155 miles (250 kilometers) to 22,456 miles (36,140 kilometers) in altitude, inclined 31.9 degrees to the equator. It will transmit a signal to supplement the current U.S. Global Positioning System from nearly directly above the Japanese archipelago.

Japan has successfully launched a satellite as part of a broader effort to build a homegrown geolocation system that boosts the accuracy of auto navigation systems and smartphone maps to mere centimetres.

The June 1 liftoff marked the 28th successful launch in the H-2A series.

"The launch was a success", a Cabinet Office spokeswoman said. Supplementary satellites like "Michibiki" are however important as mountainous terrain and high buildings sometimes interfere with its signals.

Yasunori Futagi, Michibiki 2 project manger at Mitsubishi Electric's Kamakura Works satellite factory, said Japan's second navigation satellite is lighter than the first one, featuring more compact solar panels.

Japan plans to boost the number of its satellites in orbit to seven by around 2023.

  • Zachary Reyes