China is considering a plan to cover the planet with surveillance and observation satellites following its failure to locate missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370
Chinese scientists told the South China Morning Post
that the government may build more than 50 extra satellites that would allow monitoring the entire world.
Scientists tell the paper they approached officials in Beijing and won their support after three weeks of frustration trying to find the missing Malaysian 777 jetliner. Of the 239 people aboard, 153 were Chinese, including famed calligrapher Zhang Jinquan. Three of the passengers were Americans.
"If we had a global monitoring network today, we wouldn't be searching in the dark. We would have a much greater chance to find the plane and trace it to its final position," Professor Chi Tianhe, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, told the Morning Post.
The number of satellites currently operated by the Chinese government is a state secret, but Chi estimated that the United States has about 50. The additional satellites would potentially give China greater global coverage than the United States.
If the project is approved the satellites could be launched within two years at a total cost of $3.2 billion.
"International earth-observation services today are dominated by the U.S. and European countries, but if China launches more than 50 satellites for this purpose, the whole landscape will be changed," said Professor Liu Yu, a remote-sensing expert at Peking University's School of Earth and Space Sciences.
China currently launches about 15 conventional satellites a year, and the project would force it to double that, the paper reported. That could tax current launch facilities, but an upgrade at its largest launch center will allow additional launches beginning this year.
The quality of imaging also needs to be upgraded, Liu said. And more ground stations would be needed throughout the world to offload the data, said Professor Zhao Chaofang of Ocean University of China.
"Many Chinese satellites can only offload their data when they are flying over China, so the data we receive is sometimes only a fraction of the amount collected by the satellites," he said.
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