A fresh Chinese constellation targeting early warning, disaster prevention, and natural resource monitoring will entice even more companies to invest in the country’s development of small synthetic-aperture radar satellites. The “36 Tiangang” constellation project is being headed by Tianjin Satcom Geohe Technologies Company limited, Ltd., with support from the Ministry of Natural Resources and participation from Satellite (Zhuhai) Aerospace Technology Co., Ltd., and facilities under the Harbin Institute of Technology.

The project was revealed in August in Wenchang and is titled after the old Chinese name for the Big Dipper asterism. On November 30, a signing ceremony was held in Harbin. There will be 36 satellites in the constellation. The first, which is a hyperspectral satellite having a resolution of about 10 meters in the 500-kilometer Sun-synchronous orbit, is scheduled to launch early next year. Satellite data will be coupled with monitoring data and geological surveys acquired by ground sensors in the disaster-prone areas under the 36 Tiangang scheme.

The first six satellites, which will be named after Yunnan province, will be launched in June 2022. By the end of May 2023, the entire 36-satellite constellation, which includes hyperspectral, panchromatic multispectral, and SAR satellites, will be operational.

According to CCTV, more than 50% of the following satellites are going to be SAR satellites. Ground subsidence, deformations from the seismic activity, volcanic activity, landslides, and building monitoring are all monitored by SAR satellites, which can collect data at any time of day or night and in any weather condition. SAR imagery is in scarce supply in China, that is likely a major reason for the new plans. SAR imagery is often more expensive and difficult to utilize than optical imagery.

The Gaofen-3 satellites, which are part of national CHEOS Earth observation project, and the tiny satellites Hisea-1 and Qilu-1, both created by Spacety, are examples of current capabilities. The latter, built by the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Innovation Academy for Microsatellites and maintained by Shandong Industrial Technology Research Institute, got launched in April.

However, a number of businesses and programs are attempting to supply SAR data, particularly through collaborations between established state-possessed actors and emerging commercial entities. China Electronics Technology Group (CETC), a massive state-owned corporation, is collaborating with private satellite maker Spacety to build Tianxian, a 96-satellite X as well as a C-band SAR constellation.

Beijing Smart Satellite Space Technology Company Ltd. started the procurement process for its SAR plans in February. In 2022, Smart Satellite intends to launch a constellation of 12 SAR X-band satellites. In July, Smart Satellite inked a deal with CETC’s 12th Institute, which is a domestic leader in the microwave electron vacuum gadgets, and in October, the company evaluated the SAR payload on the UAV.

In August, Piesat Information Technology Co. Ltd., a Beijing-centered satellite manufacturer, announced a strategic partnership with GalaxySpace, which is a Beijing-centered satellite manufacturer, to construct a 4-satellite Hongtu-1 SAR constellation. Under Piesat, Aerospace Hongtu is also building a cloud service ecology for SAR data processing to decrease the user data processing threshold.

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