China Adds to Growing Environmental Monitoring Constellation

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China has launched a new Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite for environmental monitoring.

Huanjing-2E took flight earlier this month on a Long March 2C rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in northern China.

The SAR satellite’s 5-meter resolution S-band radar image data will support “disaster prevention, reduction, relief, and environmental protection,” as well as “serve natural resources, water conservancy, agriculture, forestry, earthquakes, and other fields,” according to the China National Space Administration (CNSA).

Huanjing-2E’s launch follows that of Huanjing-2A and 2B in 2020. This is the latest addition to a fast-growing series of environmental monitoring systems, all deployed and operated by China.

China is making huge advances in space-based Earth monitoring, using commercial constellations to gather data about environmental change more efficiently than ever.

Because they collect data at different wavelengths, SAR satellites can obtain many types of information such as water and moisture content, surface makeup, the impact of natural or man-made disasters and changes in habitat. They have day, night and all-weather capabilities, which means they don’t require sunlight to function and are not affected by atmospheric conditions. They can also “see” through things like vegetation, snow, sand and smoke. The ability to repeatedly scan the same area regardless of weather conditions makes SAR a great tool for measuring changes in Earth’s landscapes and environment.

These capabilities provide enormous value for industries like geospatial intelligence that rely on environmental data and imaging to document and assess human activity on Earth. This kind of cutting-edge space technology also plays a huge role in agriculture, reforestation, flood management, snow and ice monitoring, wildfires, and so much more.

On their mission to help Earth from space, China also recently added to their Haiyang (meaning “ocean” in Chinese) satellite constellation. These satellites use microwave sensors to monitor the marine environment, measuring sea surface height, temperature and wind field. Since the first launch in 2002, China has added eight satellites to the constellation, with 10 more on the way.

It’s safe to say that China has solidified itself as a big player in space. Following their first satellite launch in 1970, the country’s launch capabilities boomed in the 2010s and are continuing to grow today. Today, China has full-cycle capability, meaning their satellites can be manufactured locally, then launched on Chinese rockets from Chinese launch sites. While most reports assign 499 of the 4,852 active satellites orbiting Earth to China, more recent reports estimate the number to be around 562. This makes them the world’s second largest commercial satellite owner, beaten only by the US with a monopoly of 61%.

With the climate crisis raging on and natural disasters increasing in frequency, it’s great to see more focus directed towards using space for good. If the sector continues to drive innovation through these next-generation space technologies, we can monitor and assess all kinds of damage to our planet, working together to minimise harm as far as possible.