China is attempting to obtain detailed information on its environment in a joint space venture with Europe. The Dragon Programme, run by a number of Chinese institutions and the European Space Agency (ESA), will monitor forests and farmland from orbit.
China has suffered a number of recent disasters – both natural and man-made – and it wants to see better how further growth will impact the environment. The data will come largely from the sophisticated Earth satellite Envisat.
Li Zhangwa, of the Chinese Academy of Forestry, told BBC World Service’s Science In Action programme that Dragon was primarily about resource managing. Rice growing and forestry will be mapped; water availability will be assessed, and flood forecasts made; air quality measurements will be taken and the spread of deserts measured.
The last few years have seen a number of other collaborations between China and Europe in space. Last year, the Double Star mission was launched to study the Earth’s protective “magnetic bubble”.
“The focus of the co-operation is the exploitation of ESA missions, and specifically the Envisat mission,” explained the agency’s Yves-Louis Desnos. “We launched (Envisat) in 2002… it’s a unique opportunity to observe numerous geophysical components at the same time. The Chinese believe Envisat is a much better adapted satellite to use for the Dragon Programme than any spacecraft possessed by the country itself.