China launches environmental satellite built in cooperation with Brazil

The sixth in a series of environmental monitoring satellites jointly developed by China and Brazil successfully launched Dec. 20 on top of a Long March 4B rocket.

The CBERS 4A Earth observation satellite rode the Long March 4B rocket into a 385-mile-high (620-kilometer) polar sun-synchronous orbit from the Taiyuan space base in northern China’s Shanxi province.

A three-stage, liquid-fueled Long March 4B rocket lifted off at 0322 GMT Dec. 20 (10:22 p.m. EST on Dec. 19) with the CBERS 4A spacecraft and eight smaller satellites, according to Chinese and Brazilian space officials.

CBERS 4A is the sixth in a series of Earth observation satellites developed by the two countries, and it joins CBERS 4 in orbit, still operating after its launch in 2014. The collaborative CBERS, or China-Brazil Earth Resource Satellite, program began in 1988 and the first CBERS satellite launched in 1999.

The Long March 4B rocket delivered the CBERS 4A satellite, and eight secondary payloads, into the target polar orbit after flying on a southerly trajectory from the Taiyuan space center, officials said. The Long March 4B mission marked the 33rd orbital launch attempt from China this year, and the 31st to successfully reach orbit, more than any other country in 2019.

The 3,814-pound (1,730-kilogram) CBERS 4A satellite was built and launched in China. Two of its three Earth-imaging instruments were supplied by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, known by the acronym INPE.

According to INPE, responsibility for the CBERS 4A mission is shared equally by Brazil and China. INPE said Brazil’s investment in the mission totaled 175 Brazilian reals, or about $43 million.

CBERS 4A’s highest-resolution instrument, built in China, will produce images with a resolution as good as 2 meters, or about 6.6 feet. The Brazilian cameras will see over wider swaths of territory.

The Brazilian government said CBERS 4A — designed for a five-year mission — will extend the joint Earth-imaging satellite program’s benefits in environmental monitoring, land resource surveys, and geo-information services, particularly in regions like the Amazon rainforest. The new satellite launched Dec. 20, operating in tandem with the CBERS 4 spacecraft launched in 2014, will double the number of images available to users, INPE said.

The Brazilian research institute said it has provided nearly 2.4 million CBERS satellite images to about 20,000 users since it started releasing CBERS data freely in 2004.

Brazil is developing its own domestically-built Earth observation satellite named Amazonia 1 for launch in 2020 aboard an Indian rocket.

The eight smaller satellites orbited Dec. 20 by the Long March 4B rocket included a remote sensing Earth observation microsatellite for Ethiopia. The 143-pound (65-kilogram) spacecraft, named ETRSS 1, was built in China and donated to Ethiopia, according to China’s state-run Xinhua news agency.

Reuters reported the Chinese government paid about $6 million of the ETRSS 1 satellite’s manufacturing cost of more than $7 million.

The ETRSS 1 satellite will collect imagery from orbit to support observations of crops and forests, and assist in water conservation efforts in the African nation, Xinhua said. Ethiopian engineers also received training in satellite and ground station operations from Chinese experts, officials said.

The Long March 4B rocket also sent into space a microsatellite named Tianqin 1, which will help engineers evaluate technology for a future space-based gravitational wave observatory. Tianqin 1 also hosts an amateur radio transponder.

The launch Dec. 20 also deployed the Weilai 1R microsatellite into orbit. The satellite, also known as BDSAGR 1, was developed by GasTianta and GZH-HNJ BDS AGR Co., Ltd., as the first in a constellation of small craft to provide remote sensing data on agricultural crops.

A CubeSat developed by students at Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina in the Brazilian city of Florianópolis was also launched on the Long March 4B rocket Dec. 20.

The launch also carried the Chinese Tianyan-01 remote sensing microsatellite and Tianyan-02 CubeSat into orbit, along with the Yuheng and Shuntian satellites — both designed as prototypes for an Internet distribution service from space — according to information gathered by Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist who tracks global space activity.

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