The southernmost island province of Hainan is preparing a satellite network that is expected to enable China to conduct effective and efficient surveillance over the South China Sea.
Design work for the Hainan Earth-Observation Satellite Constellation, a project headed by the Sanya Institute of Remote Sensing in Hainan and sponsored by the provincial government, has begun at the institute and by its contractors.
The first in the constellation, a Hainan 1 optical satellite, is scheduled to be launched in the second half of 2019, according to a statement from the institute.
The statement said the constellation will have 10 satellites that will be launched in four stages by the end of 2021. First, three Hainan 1 optical satellites are scheduled to enter orbit in 2019. The following year, three Hainan 1 satellites and two Sanya 1 multispectral remote-sensing satellites will be launched. In 2021, two Sansha 1 synthetic aperture radar satellites are expected to be sent into space.
At a meeting in Sanya on Tuesday, Chinese space experts reviewed and approved technical plans for the first four Hainan 1 satellites.
According to the institute, each Hainan 1 will weigh 50 kilograms, and will operate in a low-Earth orbit 500 kilometers above Earth and move at 7.9 km per second.
Yang Tianliang, director of the institute and chief designer of the constellation, said in a phone interview on Wednesday that Hainan 1 satellites will carry two types of instruments - cameras and identification technology.
"The combination of cameras and automatic identification systems will allow us not only to monitor ships lawfully sailing in the South China Sea, but also to detect and track illegally operating ones," Yang said.
Automatic identification systems can receive and process signals concerning positioning data, courses of vessels as well as speed readings sent by a moving ship. The technology is often mounted on ships and satellites and assists vessel operators in understanding maritime traffic situations while also helping maritime authorities to track and monitor vessel movements.
Yang said Hainan administers hundreds of islands and reefs in the South China Sea, so it requires the assistance of a space-based platform to monitor these territories and surrounding waters.
He also noted that once the satellite network becomes fully operational by 2021, it will be able to cover the entire South China Sea and will be very helpful in a wide range of sectors, such as marine transportation, fisheries, island management and maritime search and rescue.
Gao Enyu, a manager from Hainan MinoSpace Technology Co, was quoted by China News Service as saying on Tuesday that researchers optimized Hainan 1's cameras to make them suitable for monitoring large expanses of waters.
He added that the satellite is capable of detecting and identifying all midsize and large vessels.
Gao's company is in charge of the research and development of some of Hainan 1's equipment.