A Chinese satellite has snapped high-resolution imagery around the US city of San Francisco in just 42 seconds. The spacecraft is said to be able to remain very stable while spinning at high speeds, keeping the picture clear.
The satellite in question, a small one-ton Beijing-3 spacecraft, was launched into space back in June. The satellite is able to take high-resolution, 50-centimeters-per-pixel images from the 500 kilometer altitude it’s parked at.“China started relatively late on agile satellite technology, but achieved a large number of breakthroughs in a short period of time,” said Yang Fang, lead scientist at the DFH Satellite Company.
During tests, the spacecraft performed an in-depth scan of a vast area around San Francisco Bay, covering some 3,800 square kilometers (1,470 square miles) in a mere 42 seconds, Chinese media reported, citing researchers behind the project.
“The level of our technology has reached a world leading position.”
The research team behind the satellite claims the spacecraft is the most nimble ever built. The satellite’s ability to cover such vast areas in record time comes with the use of onboard AI, which helps to stabilize it. The Beijing-3 is said to be able to plan its flight route independently, monitoring up to 500 areas of interest as it passes around the globe nearly 100 times in a single day.
During the tests, the satellite was said to be spinning at speeds of up to 10 degrees per second. In older satellites, such speeds inevitably produce vibrations, affecting image quality.
Most existing satellites have to stay put while snapping images of the planet’s surface, as well as pass over an area several times, as they are able to photograph only a narrow stop of land directly below them. Apart from peeking America’s West Coast, the Beijing-3 was also able to scan along China’s Yangtze River, capturing the area of the winding, 6,300-kilometer-long waterway in one pass, according to the research team.