Russia will accelerate the pace of communications satellite launches to give its GLONASS navigation system full global coverage capacity by the end of the year, a senior government official said Wednesday.
Russia’s national space agency is planning to place into orbit six new GLONASS navigation satellites by the end of 2011, said Anatoly Shilov, a spokesman for Russia’s National Space Agency.
GLONASS is a Russia-developed satellite-navigation system similar to the U.S.-developed GPS.
The Russian network currently operates 23 satellites, giving coverage of Russia and the former Soviet Union. It needs between 25 and 30 aloft to provide global coverage, according to news reports.
A top government priority for GLONASS is tracking automobiles and helping motorists find routes, said Vice Premier Sergei Ivanov, who, like Mr. Shilov, spoke at a Moscow satellite communications conference.
All lorries operating in Russia will, by the end of 2014, be equipped with a GLONASS-technology transponder which will assist the government in collecting road tax and providing quick assistance in case of accidents, Mr. Ivanov said.
Testing of the lorry-tracking system, called ERA, will begin by the end of 2011, he said.
Once the GLONASS global satellite constellation is complete at 30 satellites, it will be able to pinpoint users’ locations with less than a three-metre margin of error - which would make the Russian system roughly twice as accurate as the US’ GPS system, Mr. Shilov said, according to Interfax.
A U.S. official speaking at the Wednesday conference criticized the planned new Russian laws mandating installation of GLONASS equipment in all new cars and lorries sold in Russia, while at the same time placing import taxes on satellite-navigations receivers using GPS technology.
Russia suffered a setback in December 2010 when three GLONASS satellites worth 160 million dollars failed to reach the correct orbit. Investigators later blamed ground crew who had pumped too much fuel into a booster rocket.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is a strong supporter of GLONASS, which originally was developed for Soviet military use.
Mr. Putin in 2007 broke with longstanding government bias towards secrecy to order full civilian access to the system.
Russia over the last decade has spent some 4.7 billion dollars on putting GLONASS into operation, making the satellite communications network the country’s most expensive space project.