China launches Earth science satellite for UN sustainable development goals

By Wu Yuehui (People's Daily) 09:02, November 12, 2021

China on Nov. 5 launched an Earth science satellite via a Long March-6 carrier rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, north China's Shanxi province.

A Long March-6 carrier rocket taking the "SDGSAT-1" satellite blasts off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, north China's Shanxi Province, Nov. 5, 2021. (Photo courtesy of the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center)

The satellite, code-named SDGSAT-1, is developed by the Big Earth Data Science Engineering Project of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), and is the first of its kind developed by the CAS. Besides, it's also the very first satellite in the world to help realize the goals in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development set by the UN.

The UN agenda that includes 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) was raised in 2015 to stimulate actions in solving social, economic and environmental problems. However, the world still needs more data to realize these goals.

According to the Global SDG Indicators Database, the data for only a few SDGs covered more than 80 percent of the countries in the world, and the data for most of the goals is delayed.

The shortage of data is a barrier for real-time monitoring of SDG progress and the evaluation of regional gaps, said Guo Huadong, chief scientist of SDGSAT-1 and director of International Research Center of Big Data for Sustainable Development Goals.

To solve the problem, data must be obtained and integrated via new methods and technologies, while earth observation from space is considered one of the most effective methods and research techniques for data collection.

"Observation data obtained by satellites, aircraft and ground sensors can not only reinforce those acquired from official surveys and investigations, but also generate information of higher quality that is more timely and spatially representative," Guo said.

The SDGSAT-1 has a relatively higher resolution among the satellites of its kind. Equipped with thermal infrared, glimmer and multispectral imagers, it is able to observe more details of ground objects. The satellite can achieve global coverage within 11 days thanks to its 300-kilometer-wide data acquisition capability.

These abilities enable the satellite to better record human activities. It can observe nighttime human activities and the changes of polar ice under poor light condition, and also monitor offshore and coastal zones and the impacts from human activities in these areas, for example, land utilization, coastal mangrove forests, pollution from land-based sources and offshore aquaculture. In addition, the earth science satellite is also able to study biodiversity and ecosystem, as well as living environment and urban development.

It is reported that the data obtained by the three sensors on the satellite will be received by a ground system in the following a couple of months.

The successful launch of the SDGSAT-1 demonstrated China's efforts in and contribution to realizing the goals set in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The data products of the satellite will be shared globally to offer data support for the international society, especially developing countries to carry out sustainable development studies.

Liu Jianbo, general director of the Earth science satellite project, introduced that the satellite currently works for six goals in the 17 SDGs. It is expected to obtain massive data in the future and process them with big data, AI and block chain technologies, to make bigger contributions to sustainable development, Liu added.

"We hope to work with Chinese and international organizations and effectively gather and share the data and help bridge the gap in the unbalanced global sustainable development," Guo noted. 

(Web editor: Hongyu, Liang Jun)


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