China plans to launch six small optical satellites and five small synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites in next six years to form the first satellite constellation of its kind in the world, said Luan Enjie, director of the China National Space Administration (CNSA). Luan described the plan Tuesday during the panel discussion on knowledge-based disaster management at the ongoing 60th session of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).
The constellation utilizes the concept of "formation flying" satellites, a system in which a cluster of small, discrete satellites remain in the same positions relative to each other as they orbit the Earth. The data collected from each can be combined to produce a single "virtual" satellite from the overall array.
Luan said that between 2005 and 2010, seven small optical satellites and 5 small SAR satellites will be launched.
"We will not establish a round-the-clock monitoring system on environmental changes and disasters in China until we set up a satellite constellation," said Luo Ge, an official with the CNSA.
The system will help to forecast such disasters as floods, earthquakes, droughts, typhoons and forest fires, he added.
The three optical satellites for the first phase are now being developed. They will be individually delivered to a solar synchronization orbit 500 to 700 kilometers from Earth, each carrying equipment that will include cameras with a resolution of 30 meters, Luo said.
China expects to introduce international partners in the second phase of the project, when eight of the satellites will be launched, he said.
"We hope the satellite constellation will be part of the anti-disaster platform in the Asia-Pacific region," Luan said, "China would like to push forward the application of space technologies in disaster control in this region to share resources, cut costs and reduce risks."
"China would like to fully play its role in disaster control in the world and peaceful development in outer space," he added.
According to the China International Committee for Natural Disaster (CICND), more than 200 million Chinese suffer as a result of natural disasters every year. Last year they caused losses totaling 188.4 billion yuan (US$22.7 billion), equal to 1.6 percent of the country's GDP.
(Xinhua News Agency April 28, 2004)