On October 10, Japan has launched its 4th Michibiki satellite as part of the QZSS (Quasi-Zenith Satellite System). The satellites loop over Japan and Australia, allowing uninterrupted coverage of the area, and engineers plan to switch to this system in April. The new Japanese GPS can locate devices with a very high accuracy (within a few centimeters), while the commonly used U.S. GPS has an accuracy of a few metres.
The QZSS project uses multiple satellites placed around the zenith of Japan, allowing them to pinpoint location much more accurately in urban or mountainous areas. Four GPS satellites are needed to determine a position, and because of skyscrapers and mountains, the signals can receive some interference. This causes some issues with the navigation system, which is not only used for cars, but also air traffic, monitoring, weather forecasting and earthquake detection (very necessary in Japan). This will also improve the range of GPS tracking and navigation.
The satellites will orbit in a figure-8 pattern, and upon the project’s completion, it is estimated that 8 satellites will be available at any time when combining the new satellites with the previous GPS system. Now with 4 Michibiki satellites operational, the QZSS “constellation” will have reached its operating capacity, and will become operational in 2018. In the future, further plans will include a total of 7 satellites being placed by 2023.