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Technology

Japan puts up satellite in step to build homegrown GPS

Quasi-zenith devices to allow location data accurate to 6cm

The quasi-zenith satellite Michibiki (Courtesy of JAXA)

TOKYO -- Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency on Thursday launched a second quasi-zenith satellite, Michibiki, from the Tanegashima Space Center in the southern prefecture of Kagoshima.

The H-IIA No. 34 rocket lifted off at 9:17 a.m., successfully releasing the satellite into orbit about 28 minutes later.

It was the 28th straight successful launch of an H-IIA rocket. The success rate of 97.05% far exceeds the 95% line that is internationally recognized as a high level of reliability.

Quasi-zenith satellites detect the location of objects on the ground precisely using radio waves. The satellites fly directly over Japan so that their signals are more likely to reach the ground unobstructed by buildings or mountains. That significantly increases the accuracy of location data. Together with data from the conventional Global Positioning System, quasi-zenith satellites can pinpoint the location of an object to within about 6cm, much better than GPS's 10 meters.

The Japanese government plans to put two more quasi-zenith satellites into orbit in the current fiscal year through March 2018, bringing the total to four by next spring. With four quasi-zenith devices, at least one will always be above Japan, meaning highly accurate location information will always be available. The system is expected to have applications in self-driving cars and monitoring systems for elderly people, among others.

GPS, a U.S. system originally developed for military use, is increasingly employed for commercial purposes. It has fostered the development of information services for smartphones and facilitated research into autonomous driving.

The Japanese government plans to increase the number of quasi-zenith satellites from four to seven by around fiscal 2023. With seven satellites, Japan will be able to obtain location information on its own without relying on GPS.

Japan is rushing to develop its own positioning system for security reasons. The technology is seen as increasingly essential to daily life. Europe and China are also working on their own satellite positioning systems.

(Nikkei)

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