Japan Launches Satellite to Enhance its Homegrown GPS/GNSS Solution

Japan has announced the successful launch of its satellite as part of a broader effort to build a homegrown, more accurate geolocation system, boosting accuracy of car navigation systems and smartphone maps to centimetres. This Japanese version of GPS is called QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System). The H-IIA rocket on was launched on Thursday morning from the Tanegashima space centre in southern Japan carrying the "Michibiki" No.2 satellite, which was later released into orbit.

Satellite geolocation systems, initially designed for the US military, now power countless civilian applications, from car navigation to internet browsing on mobile phones. Japan, untill now relied on the US-operated Global Positioning System (GPS). Thursday's launch was part of the nation’s broader plan to build a domestic version with four satellites focusing on the country and wider region.

The first satellite was put into orbit in 2010 and the third and fourth are to be launched by March 2018 to start the service. The Japan-built system will still need to operate in tandem with GPS.

Though GPS is widely used in Japan, having supplementary satellites is important in a country where mountainous terrain and high buildings interfere with its signals. Michibiki, meaning guidance in Japanese, can cover the Asia-Oceania region and is intended for civilian use.

After the four-satellite network establishment, its use can expand into self-driving cars, agriculture, construction and other fields. Japan plans to boost the number of its satellites in orbit to seven by around 2023.