Russia launches GPS-like satellites on Christmas Day

As an unusual Christmas present to the world, Russia sent the last three of its GPS-compatible GLONASS satellites into space on Tuesday, whose missions range from global military tracking to keeping an eye on civilian-owned pet dogs and cats.

While most nations sat practically still during the traditional late December lull, Russia sent the rest of the world a present on Christmas Day by shooting the last three of its GPS (Global Position System)-compatible GLONASS (Global Navigation Satellite System) satellites into space.

Although the 24 satellites in the GLONASS system will be used mostly by the Russians for military tracking, GLONASS is supposedly interoperable with the United States' GPS -- a navigational and mapping system which is utilized heavily for both military and civilian purposes -- and the still emerging Galileo system of the European Union.

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With the expansion of GLONASS, the Russians want to boost the high tech sector of their economy, too -- and it looks as though they'll be adding other civilian applications, as well.

One early enthusiast -- semi-outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin -- reportedly wants to use GLONASS to spy on the whereabouts of his black Labrador retriever dog, Koni.

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted Putin as asking during a satellite briefing session, "When can I buy hardware to equip my dog with so that she won't run away too far?"

Russian Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov reportedly replied, "Producers will be able to offer collars for dogs and cats of commercial users in mid-2008."

GLONASS already works over most of Russia, providing an instant fix of position once the satellites are located.

But Russia's plans call for global coverage by the end of 2009, after all 28 satellites in the system are fully functional.

GLONASS replaces Tsikada, a previous satellite system launched back in the days of the former Soviet Union. Tsikada took from one to two hours to calculate a position.

GLONASS encountered delays with the floundering of the Russian economy during the late 1990s. But with abundant new government funding, it is now expected to be fully ready ahead of Europe's Galileo.

According to Russian officials, GLONASS will be used mostly alongside the US GPS system.

The US GPS system, however, can be switched off for civilian subscribers by the US government. The US did just that during recent military exercises in Iraq, for example.

The ground control segment of GLONASS is reportedly located entirely within the territory of the former Soviet Union.

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