Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Polish and Chinese Satellites Successfully Launched into Space

A Long March-4B carrier rocket blasts off from the launch pad at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China's Shanxi Province, Aug. 19, 2014. Credit: Xinhua/Liu Chan

China on Tuesday successfully launched its most advanced earth observation satellite, the Gaofen-2, and the Polish satellite BRITE-PL-2, also known as “Heweliusz”. The launch took place at the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China's Shanxi Province at 11:15 a.m. Beijing Time. Gaofen-2 is the country's second high-definition satellite in orbit. The "Heweliusz" satellite, which is designed to observe the brightest stars in our Galaxy, is the Polish contribution to the BRITE mission, developed by a consortium of Canadian, Austrian and Polish institutes. The satellites were boosted by a Long March-4B carrier rocket.

Gaofen-2 is China's most advanced high-definition Earth observation satellite, and is able to see a one-meter-long object from space in full color.

It will be used for geographic and resources surveillance, environment and climate change monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster relief and city planning.

The primary users of the satellite will be the Ministry of Land and Resources, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, the Ministry of Transport, and the State Forestry Administration, according to the State Administration of Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND).

The Gaofen-2 is the second of seven satellites to be launched for China's indigenous high-definition observation project Gaofen before 2020. The project was initiated in May 2010.

Gaofen-1, the first satellite of the project, was launched in April 2013.

Gaofen-1 provides service for more than ten Chinese government departments including the ministries of land and resources, environmental protection and agriculture. It has also assisted China's search for the missing Malaysian airliner MH370 and played an important role in city development in Beijing, Hebei Province and Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, according to the SASTIND.

BRITE-PL-2 “Heweliusz” (also designated CanX-3D) is a 20 x 20 x 20 cm satellite with a launch mass of 6 kg. The small satellite will make photometric observations of some of the brightest stars in the sky in order to examine these stars for variability. The observations will have a precision at least 10 times better than achievable using ground-based observations.

Polish BRITE-PL-2 "Heweliusz" satellite. Credit: China Great Wall Industry Corporation
Polish BRITE-PL-2 "Heweliusz" satellite. Credit: China Great Wall Industry Corporation

The satellite will be taking images of the sky with a wide-field camera in order to precisely measure the brightness of the brightest stars.

Measuring these stars precisely from the Earth’s surface proves to be a difficult task, even though they are easily detectable during a cloudless night. A few hundred (500-800) stars of the Milky Way will be observed during the experiment.

Polish scientists intend to investigate the mechanism of convection, which is the transportation of energy that takes place in the hottest stars. This is an important occurrence in nature that physicists have known for over 100 years, however it does not yet have a mathematical description. The BRITE project will help explain the phenomenon.

BRITE program is an unprecedented opportunity not only for Polish science, but also for the Polish industry to obtain new technologies and at the same time to create a prestigious international forum for the exploration of space.

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