‘Space eyes’ in orbiting alert for disasters

‘Space eyes’ in orbiting alert for disasters

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China will launch a cluster of small satellites to allow better disaster management from space for China and other nations, said Luan Enjie, administrator of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) at a high-level panel on Knowledge Economic Development. “Large-scale, all-weather, all-time and dynamic monitoring of the environment and disasters will be realized to contribute to the sustainable economic and social development of China,” he said.

According to Luan, the main mission of the small satellite constellation will be to monitor the environment for floods, drought, typhoons, windstorms and tidal events. The system can also sense earthquakes, landslides, mud-rock flows, forest fires, plant diseases and insect pests, sea disasters, environmental pollution and assess disaster management.

“The system will mainly follow the development of natural disasters and allow forecasting,” said Luan. While it may not directly improve the accuracy of earthquake forecasts, Luan is confident the information and data collected will contribute to related research.

The first stage of the project, upon which research started five years ago, includes the launch of three satellites, – two small optical satellites and one small synthetic aperture radar satellite – by 2006 with China’s own capacity. With a period of 48 hours, the satellites will meet part of the demand for disaster management.

With international co-operation, the system will have been expanded by 2010 to a second stage, which includes eight satellites – four optical satellites and four radar ones – with a shortened period of 12 hours. By then, the all-weather and all-time monitoring in a real sense will be materialized. The system, when completed, will be the first in the region to be directed specifically towards natural disaster evaluation. Luan told the media that the first three satellites are currently under research and production.

According to Luo Ge, director-general of the CNSA’s Department of Foreign Affairs, China has contacted a number of countries, including Russia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Peru and Brazil concerning co-operation.

Like many other countries in the region, China is plagued by various kinds of natural disasters every year, such as floods, drought, earthquakes, typhoons and landslides. About 200 million people are affected annually and economic losses caused by natural disasters amount to 2 to 5 per cent of the gross national product.