The Long March carrier rocket launched successfully on Friday at the Xichang Satellite Launch Center, according to Chinese state media.
The Chinese Compass Navigation Satellite System will provide positioning signals across China by 2008, and will eventually be extended worldwide.
Experts said that the system is operating well and has played a significant role in cartography, telecoms, water conservation, transportation, fishery, prospecting, forest fire monitoring and national security.
There is concern across the world over the dependence on GPS, which the US can shut down or degrade at will.
While GPS was set up for military use, it became a useful civilian tool in 1996 after incumbent president Bill Clinton ordered that accurate signals should be shared with companies for civilian applications.
The satellite and Long March rocket were developed respectively by the China Academy of Space Technology and the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology, which form part of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.
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