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Russia's GLONASS Sat Nav system will be tops

The final three satellites launched as part of Russia's GLONASS, or Global Navigation Satellite System, are now in orbit. They were fired from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Tuesday.

There are now 18 operational satellites making up the system which aims to compete with America's Global Positioning System.

GLONASS was designed for both military and civilian use.

The system has cost more than $US 550 million to develop and is expected to be fully operational by 2008.

First deputy Prime Minister Sergey Ivanov says Russia is planning to increase the number of satellites to improve the quality and efficiency of the system.

“By 2010, we will have 24 satellites in orbit. Next year, we plan to launch upgraded models, with a lifetime of 7-10 years. This will cut the costs of the system,” Ivanov said.

President Vladimir Putin has shown personal interest in the project's success.

“When can I get a spy device to put it on my dog so it cannot go too far?” asked Putin.

Answering his question Sergey Ivanov said that commercial GLONASS production could be available as early as mid-2008.

He also said the product would be commercially viable and wouldn't cost consumers more than GPS.

“Our customers will have a double advantage – they would receive signals from Glonass and GPS, and the future European Galileo system. It means the data provided will be very accurate,” he said.

The GLONASS system was put in orbit by the latest model of the Proton M rocket.