Chinese Army Recon Readied As Civil Mapping Satellite

Graphic image of the nearly 1.5 ton Chinese/CBERS Ziyuan (ZY 3) imaging spacecraft shows imaging sensors on bottom of satellite. Photo Credit: IMPE

China is beginning final preparations for the planned early January launch of its Ziyuan 3 (ZY 3) spacecraft, the highest resolution electro optical dual use civil/military mapping satellite ever flown by China.

The nearly 1.5 ton spacecraft will be launched from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in Shanxi Province on a Long March 4B rocket, said Song Chaozhi, deputy director of China’s National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and geo-information. 

Some U. S. intelligence analysts say the organization is as much about disinformation” as geo-information.

Chinese Ziyuan spacecraft are being launched under false identities as civilian Earth-monitoring systems, intelligence analysts believe. Although supposedly civilian the satellites are designated by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army as Jianbing program spacecraft, a general designation used by China for all of its military imaging reconnaissance satellites.

The technical specifications of FY 3 duplicate those of the China Brazil Earth Resources Satellite (CBERS 3) and the new FY satellite was built, in part in Brazil, as part of Chinese cooperation with Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE).

Analysts believe that that FY 3, CBERS 3 and a planned new Jianbing (with an unknown numerical designation) are all the same spacecraft planned for launch in January.

The 3,300 lb. spacecraft will be launched into a 478 mi. polar sun-synchronous orbit that argues in favor of civil data acquisition.  On the other hand its new global high resolution capabilities will be especially useful to the People’s Liberation Army.

A Long March 4B rocket launched in January from Taiyuan, as pictured in this unrelated mission, will place FY 3 into a 478 mi. sun synchronous orbit. Photo Credit: CALT

There is no doubt that it will be a highly advanced spacecraft with sensor capabilities useful to both civilian and military users.  The sensor payload involves:

–Panchromatic and multispectral imager, with a 16.4 ft. panchromatic resolution and 33 ft. multispectral resolution useful for many military and civilian applications.

–Infrared scanner with 40 meter resolution especially useful for early detection of wild fires as well as militarily significant sites like nuclear power plants or massed troops or equipment.

–Multispectral CCD Camera with 65 ft. resolution especially important for monitoring Earth resources, land use and environmental threats.

–Wide Field Imager with 209 ft. resolution at nadir and a 538 mi. swath width that repeats every 5 days. This sensor will also be useful for planning for higher resolution imaging of Earth resources, land use and environmental targets.

The basis for the space cooperation between China and Brazil was established in 1984, when both countries signed a complementary agreement to cooperate in science and technology.

In July 1988, China and Brazil signed a new protocol establishing joint production of the China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellites, although China has broadened its designation and utilization of the increasingly advanced spacecraft.

Actual imaging sensors on the nadir facing side of Zy 3 are visible in this image taken during satellite processing. Photo Credit: INPE

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