A Chinese satellite, called the Beijing-3, recently scanned 1,470 square miles of the San Francisco Bay area in less than 42 seconds. Researchers are saying Beijing-3, which launched in June of 2021, has a response time that is two to three times faster than American satellites. This comes with concerns that China is currently building and fielding space capabilities at twice the rate of the U.S. It’s said that Beijing-3 can observe up to 500 areas around the world and can revisit them up to 100 times per day, reports Matthew Loh of the Insider. He writes (abridged):
The satellite was launched by China in June and performed an in-depth scan of the central San Francisco Bay area, covering 1,470 square miles, the journal Spacecraft Engineering reports.
Most satellites observing the Earth must be stable when taking image because altitude control mechanisms can produce vibrations that blur the images.
But in the Chinese experiment on June 16, the satellite was able to change the angle of its camera’s line of sight to the ground when passing over the US.
The movement meant it could capture a larger area than satellites have been previously able to.
The pictures were taken at an altitude of 310 miles and had a resolution of 50 centimetres per pixel with the test showing the satellite could take images while its body was twisting at up to 10 degrees per second, a speed not seen on a satellite before.
“China started relatively late on agile satellite technology, but achieved a large number of breakthroughs in a short period of time,” said project lead scientist Yang Fang from the DFH Satellite Company writing in a paper published in the domestic peer-reviewed journal Spacecraft Engineering this month.
“The level of our technology has reached a world leading position.”
According to Yang, the Beijing-3 is the most nimble satellite ever seen and could be one of the most powerful Earth observation satellites ever built.
A satellite in the Earth’s lower orbit could normally observe a straight, narrow strip of area beneath it and would have to circle the Earth several times, or work with other satellites, to cover a region of interest.
Due to Beijing-3’s abilities it was able to carry out some tasks previously considered technically impossible.
It was able to take images of the 6,300km-long Yangtze River between the Tibetan plateau and the East China Sea, in just one fly-by, according to Yang and her colleagues.
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