Chinese satellite ‘Beijing-3’ makes record high-quality images of American cities

Written by The Frontier Post

Maxim Borisov

The US military has received a serious headache: the new Chinese satellite “Beijing-3” with artificial intelligence takes clear images from space in ultra-high resolution at an unprecedented speed, very quickly reconfigured to new objects. The results of the work of this satellite were published in a scientific journal.
Chinese scientists who took part in the development of the Beijing-3 satellite project with artificial intelligence, said that this relatively small device weighing one ton can quickly take high-resolution images of US cities, which are so detailed that they can identify individual military vehicles and the weapons they are transporting. The media have already called the satellite a headache and a nightmare for the US military. “Beijing-3” launched by China in June, conducted an in-depth scan of an area of 3800 km 2 in the San Francisco Bay, covering the area of 42, as reported by the newspaper The South China Morning Post, with reference to the results, published in Chinese peer-reviewed journal Spacecraft Engineering.
The unique advantage of the Beijing 3 satellite is that it can quickly switch from object to object at speeds of up to 10 degrees per second without compromising image quality, says lead scientist Yang Fang of the China Academy of Space Technology. Usually satellite cameras are forced to remain stationary when taking high-definition images, so they scan in narrow rectangular stripes as they fly over a particular area of the earth. To get an image of a wide area, they have to fly over the same area several times, or work in tandem with other satellites.
The technology of most Earth observation satellites does not allow for rapid reconfiguration from object to object, because the orientation mechanisms create small vibrations that adversely affect the shooting process, blurring the images. However, in the experiment on June 16, the camera of “Beijing-3”, without harm to the quality of the images, made quick and abrupt movements, changing the angles of view during the flight over North America. These movements made it possible to capture a much larger area than the satellites have been able to do so far.
Despite its relatively small size and low cost, Beijing 3 can be considered the most manoeuvrable satellite and one of the most advanced Earth observation satellites ever built, Yang Fang said.
Equipped with artificial intelligence, Beijing-3 can potentially observe 500 regions around the world, making up to hundreds of filming per day. Thanks to all the same artificial intelligence, the satellite can also detect the presence of certain targets and send their photographs to the ground control center. Yang Fang and his colleagues argue that the Beijing-3’s unrivaled maneuverability enables it to perform some surveillance tasks previously considered technically impossible. For example, taking images of the 6,300 km winding Yangtze River, flowing from the Tibetan Plateau to the East China Sea in just one pass from north to south over China.
Chinese experts said they have applied new technologies to reduce vibration by an order of magnitude, and this works even when the satellite is spinning rapidly. The revolutionary pla-tform, designated CAST30-00E, will usher in a new generation of Chinese observation satellites that will deliver record-breaking performance despite being small. The new platform is equipped with solar panels with a unique structure that prevents shaking during fast and sharp turns of the satellite. An advanced cooling system can prevent overheating of any components suddenly exposed to the sun. Critical components such as telescopes and antennas have also been developed using new technologies and artificial intelligence to protect the satellite from physical damage caused by rapid movements.
The satellite, built on the new platform, can store one terabyte of images and transmit data to Earth at a speed of 1 GB / s, surpassing the performance of US satellites.
Nevertheless, the image quality of Beijing-3 is still noticeably inferior to the best American satellites, such as Worldview-4, developed by Lockheed Martin. The satellite took pictures with a resolution of 30 cm per pixel. Beijing 3 can take pictures with a resolution of 50 cm per pixel at best. However, its developers said the Chinese satellite’s response time is about two to three times faster than Worldview-4, which was also decommissioned in 2019 – less than three years after launch in 2016 – due to failure in the stabilization system.
The images acquired by WorldView-4 still do not allow the vehicle’s license plate to be read, but its make and model can already be identified. This applies to military vehicles and other equipment, which makes it possible to evaluate the most important characteristics. For example, the firing range of installed weapons.
The Beijing 3 report co-mes amid growing US concerns that China’s space technology is developing at a breakneck pace. General David Thompson, deputy head of the space operations department of the US Space Forces, said that by 2030 China could overtake the United States in space technology. “The fact that they are essentially building, deploying and updating their space projects on average twice as fast as we do means that very soon, if we don’t put in the extra ef-fort, they will surpass us,” General Thompson said. in an interview with CNN.
However, despite China’s constant renewal and innovation, Western companies continue to dominate the commercial Earth observation market. Only a small number of countries such as Egypt, India and the Netherlands have chosen to buy commercial satellite imagery from China. Qi Yimin, sales manager for DFH Satellite in Beijing, explains this by the fact that although China has caught up, and in some places surpassed Western countries in its technologies, established commercial ties cannot change overnight. “The commercial satellites of our country were launched quite late, the production chains have not yet formed, and the business is still in its early stages of development,” explains Qi Yimin.
In addition, most Chine-se satellite imagery technologies were originally developed for government or military users in China itself, so additional efforts will be required to adapt them to new conditions.

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