China recently launched its first domestically produced commercial high-resolution optical Earth observation satellite, the Space News website reports.
In a move that reflects the country's transition from satellite imagery importer to producer, the four-satellite Jilin-1 was launched by Chinese Long March 2D rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Centre in the Gansu Province, into a 655-kilometre polar low Earth orbit.
According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the first two satellites have been designed to provide ultra-high-definition video. The third acts as a technology demonstrator and the fourth contains a camera that can produce images—intended for commercial use—with a 72-centimeter ground resolution.
Constructed by Chang Guang Satellite Tehcnology Co.—a commercial arm of the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Changchun Institute of Optics, Fine Mechanics and Physics—the satellite is designed to generate commercial business, although it is not yet clear how much it can achieve alone.
Chang Guang does, however, have ambitious plans to have 16 satellites in orbit by the end of next year as part of the second stage of its initiative, and by 2020 it hopes to have 60 satellites in operation—providing a 30-minute revisit capability from anywhere on Earth.
For the fourth and final stage of the program, the company plans to have some 138 satellites in orbit by the year 2030, offering 10-minute revisits.
China has been a significant market for US and European satellite Earth observation for over two decades, but since 2009 it has been phasing out imports with imagery taken by its own satellites—more recently, in higher-resolutions.
This latest launch was the 10th in a series of Long Market rocket launches since 2015, and the sixth in just under a month. According to China Great Wall Industry Corp. (CGWIC) based in Beijing, this momentum is expected to continue with 15-20 Long March rocket campaigns in the next few years. whether or not the US government removes its ban on exporting US satellite parts to China.