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BEIJING (Reuters) - China this weekend launched the third in a series of 35 satellites, designed to create its own global positioning network by 2020 and catch up to countries with a more established presence in space.
The network, known as Beidou or COMPASS, is intended to provide navigation and communication services for users in the Asia-Pacific region by around 2012, and is to cover the globe by 2020, according to the program's newly unveiled official website, www.beidou.gov.cn.
China is trying to catch up with the United States and Russia in space, where it already operates satellites for mapping, weather forecasting and state security.
Its successful downing of a defunct communications satellite in 2007 raised alarm bells in Western capitals, which are leery of the Chinese military's growing technological abilities.
More satellites could give China the ability to track and attack foreign ships at sea, helping it should a war ever break out over self-ruled Taiwan, military experts have argued.
China has staked a good deal of national pride on its space programme, which gained prominence when it put its first "taikonauts" in orbit in 2003, and plans to land a vehicle on the moon in 2012.
Its space efforts have spurred rival India to expand its own space capabilities.
Reporting by Huang Yan and Lucy Hornby; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani