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Gaofen provides eye in the sky

Zhao Lei
Updated: Mar 7,2015 10:18 AM     China Daily

China is speeding up the formation of a high-resolution Earth observation system to get rid of its heavy reliance on foreign satellites, project officials said on March 6.

“Gaofen-2 will work with Gaofen-1 and our remote-sensing satellites to improve China’s high-resolution Earth observation network and help alleviate the country’s heavy dependence on foreign satellites’ data,” Xu Dazhe, director of the China National Space Administration, said at a news conference in Beijing on March 6 to mark Gaofen-2’s delivery to users.

Gaofen-2, which was launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi province in August, is capable of observing and distinguishing a 1-meter-long object in full color from 600 kilometers above Earth. Scientists and engineers spent nearly seven months on a host of in-orbit tests that produced nearly 1,000 panchromatic and multispectral images, according to the administration.

It is China’s most advanced high-definition Earth observation satellite for civilian purposes. Major users are transport, forestry, urban development and land and resources departments.

“We have been adopting satellite data in the protection of farmland and mineral prospection for a long time but in the absence of our own high-resolution Earth observation system, we had to purchase foreign satellites’ service,” said Zhang Delin, deputy minister of land and resources.

“The Gaofen network will substantially facilitate our farmland and land resources management. It will also strengthen our capabilities in monitoring disasters and emergency response,” he added.

Li Zengyuan, deputy head of the Chinese Academy of Forestry’s Research Institute of Forest Resource Information Techniques, said the academy used to buy satellite images from a French space service company, which charges high prices for each picture.

“A picture covering a swath of 3,600 square kilometers usually costs at least 40,000 yuan ($6,390) while a customized image is priced at about 100,000 yuan,” he said. “By contrast, the Gaofen satellites can make images with higher resolution, and we have been given free access to these images.”

Li noted that Gaofen-1 has provided nearly 10,000 images on Chinese forests to the academy.

China began the Gaofen project in May 2010 and listed it as one of the 16 national important projects in science and technology.

The first in the system, Gaofen-1, was launched from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in Gansu province in April 2013.

The National Space Administration is working on the development of other Gaofen satellites that will form a seven-satellite network before 2020.