Japan put a second satellite into orbit Thursday to enhance the precision of its global positioning system used in smartphones and car navigation equipment.
The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. launched an H-2A rocket carrying the government's quasi-zenith satellite Michibiki No. 2 in the morning from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima Prefecture, southwestern Japan.
Michibiki satellites are used to determine locations of objects on Earth. The Japanese government said it is planning to launch two more of the satellites later this year to further upgrade the GPS system.
The newly launched satellite will work in tandem with the first Michibiki satellite in quasi-zenith orbits at an altitude of 33,000 to 39,000 kilometers and complement a U.S. satellite network that Japan had previously fully depended on.
The first Michibiki satellite, launched in 2010, is currently working with the U.S. satellite network, but radio waves from those satellites are sometimes blocked by skyscrapers and mountains and GPS may display locations that are several meters away from actual positions.
Using the first and three new additional satellites, the Japanese government plans to provide more precise GPS services from fiscal 2018, a government official said.
By that time, a margin of error would be reduced to 1 meter from current several meters with a device that can receive data from the Michibiki satellites. With a special receiver, the margin could be further narrowed to 6 centimeters.
Once the "Japanese GPS" is completed, smartphone users will be able to receive more accurate information on locations shown in their map apps. The total costs of developing and producing the three new Michibiki satellites stand at about 90 billion yen ($811 million).
Upgraded GPS data could also be used for unmanned operations of tractors and other heavy machines that require precise motions for agriculture and civil engineering. They are also expected to help locate children and the elderly.