State media yesterday hailed the successful launch of a space rocket that takes China a step closer to completing its own satellite navigational system. The satellite is the third link in the Beidou system, a multibillion-yuan project to produce a home-grown rival to the United States' Global Positioning System and Europe's Galileo. The blast-off took place shortly after midnight on Saturday night, from the main satellite launch station in Xichang, Sichuan province . The satellite was delivered to geostationary orbit aboard a Long March 3111 carrier rocket. The chief engineer on the Beidou project, Sun Jiadong, told Xinhua that the latest addition to the network showed the system was well on the way to completion. 'The successful launch of the third Beidou navigational satellite demonstrates the construction of the Beidou satellite navigational system has taken another important step forward.' He said the network was being put together along a three-stage plan and progress was 'on schedule'. Beidou - Chinese for the Big Dipper - will require at least 10 satellites to be in orbit before it can begin functioning in the Asia-Pacific region, scheduled for 2012. It will take a total of 30 to 35 satellites for the system to effect worldwide coverage, which China plans to complete by 2020. Five of those satellites will be in geostationary positions like the one launched yesterday, while the remainder will be in lower, non- stationary orbits. In addition to positioning, the satellite network will also be used to carry short-message services and broadcast time signals. The system, also known as the Compass in English, is of enormous commercial value but is hugely important from a military perspective. Beidou aims to perform in much the same way as the GPS. It is scheduled to be operational ahead of the European Union's Galileo system, in which China is a partner. Having its own network of satellites means China will be self-reliant in terms of running hi-tech weapons guidance systems. Military experts have previously expressed concerns about the possible impact of the US cutting access to its GPS system. Andrei Chang, editor-in-chief of the Canada-based Kanwa Defence Review, says China's expansion into an independent satellite navigation system is anticipated. 'Currently, Beijing has to rely on the US military-owned GPS system. Its own version of the GPS system will provide China with more reliable and effective navigation and positioning of force deployment. The Chinese military, especially its precision-guided weapons, will benefit.' An official at China Electronics Technology Group Corp, which is involved in the project, previously told the South China Morning Post that he estimated the system would cost 'several billion yuan' to complete. Work on the Beidou system began in earnest in 2000, with an experimental system using just two satellites. The first satellite for the second-generation Beidou was put into space in 2007, followed by another last year. China has pledged to give access to its 'open service' free of charge within the service area, which would provide positioning accurate to within 10 metres. A more accurate service will also be available for 'authorised users'. Xinhua said Beidou's management office had released a statement saying that China would make its own global navigation system compatible and inter-operable with other international competitors.