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2 satellites launched to monitor disasters
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China launched two small satellites to monitor the environment and natural disasters at 11:25 a.m. on Saturday.

The two small optical satellites, launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province and carried by a Long March 2C rocket, were expected to enhance the country's capacity to forecast natural disasters, according to Bai Zhaoguang, a leading scientist and designer of the satellites.

The satellites, the first of their kind put into space by China, went into orbit 51 minutes after being launched.

They are expected to have a lifespan of more than three years. They have state-of-the-art imaging systems and infrared cameras and provide a global scan every two days.

The satellites can closely track natural disasters, Bai said, and provide quick assessments of damage to guide rescue and reconstruction work.

The move is part of China's effort to create a satellite constellation with four optical satellites and four synthetic aperture radar satellites.

The constellation would enable China to have a stable and efficient forecasting and service network for environmental and natural disaster monitoring, according to the scientist.

The constellation will also be able to provide continuous, dynamic all-weather monitoring services for natural disasters and the environment.

"The role of the satellites will be significant when China faces such natural disasters as this year's snowstorms and massive earthquake," he said.

The satellites are unparalleled in monitoring the environment in terms of their scale, speed and ability to operate regardless of weather, he said.

China had several natural disasters this year. In the winter, prolonged snowstorms affected large areas of southern and central China and stranded millions of people.

On May 12, an earthquake measuring 8.0 on the Richter Scale struck southwest Sichuan Province. It is feared more than 87,000 died in the disaster.

China used satellite images to help assess damage to infrastructure after that quake.

Small, or miniaturized, satellites are characterized by small sizes and low weights, usually under 1,000 kg. They require smaller, cheaper launch vehicles and can sometimes be launched in multiples.

(Xinhua News Agency September 7, 2008)

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