Since 1999, the programme, known as CBERS (China-Brazil Earth Resources Satellite), has put three satellites into orbit (CBERS 1, 2 and 3), each weighing 1.5 tonnes and launched by Chinese rockets at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre, in northern China’s Shanxi province. Each carries a kit of optical instruments, such as low- and high-resolution cameras.
Built almost exclusively with national components, the devices have already provided 175,000 images for Brazil and China. The initiative is nourishing a unique domestic space industry in each country and represents an important step towards making China and Brazil independent from data produced by commercial remote sensing companies and space agencies in developed countries.
The CBERS family is doing similar work to NASA's famous Landsat and Europe's highly precise SPOT, both operative since the 1980s. The satellites monitor terrestrial and atmospheric dynamics such air moisture, agricultural land use, coastal floods and forest fires. The difference is that having their own long-term programme allows Brazil and China to obtain cheap remote sensing data to support public policy.
“We cannot rely only on images from other countries' satellites. The Landsat, because of its age, may fail at any moment,” explained Marco Chamon, general coordinator of satellite technology for the Brazilian National Institute of Space Research (INPE). “We need the security of knowing that we are going to receive data for a long time.”…