GOES-R and Fannui 3: Full Disk Surveillance and Monitoring
When Chinese state media announced that China had successfully tested and launched the first ever Chinese-made space probe, many eyebrows went up in surprise. Although China is one of the biggest trading partners in the world today, many still viewed this as a major achievement for them and a huge leap forward in their space program. If history is any indication, however, these expectations were not well founded. While the maiden mission of the Fengyun 3 space probe was successful, many more will need to be done before we can say that China has achieved significant success when it comes to space exploration. As China continues down the road of space exploration, we will continue to learn about their various accomplishments, but they are unlikely to make any profound breakthroughs that will change the overall perception of the country in the eyes of the outside world.
The most significant advancement that China has made when it comes to its space program comes in the form of the installation of its own satellites into geosynchronous orbit around the Earth. These satellites, or space observatories, operate in a similar fashion to the U.S. Air Force’s Global Weather Satellite programs, positioning themselves high above the Earth and transmitting data and information back down to ground stations. Geosynchronous orbit is just that — completely overhead. Because of this, they can observe the sun from greater distances than any other known space telescope.
Two types of geostationary operational satellites are installed into geostationary orbit around the Earth. One is the Fengyun 3, which was launched in 2007. It is believed to be the first ever Chinese-made space probe, and its primary purpose will be to gather data on the makeup of space dust, which has an effect on the functioning of Chinese solar panels. The other satellite, the Jiuquan 2, is scheduled to be operational around the same time as the Fengyun 3, in order to take advantage of China’s new space law, which states that all objects in geostationary orbit must be Chinese. Of these two operational satellites, the Jiuquan 2 is more advanced and technologically superior; however, it will not be operational until 2012. The Fannui 3, by contrast, is still undergoing testing.
The final type of geostationary spaceplane is the advanced baseline imager/weather model. This is essentially a weather balloon, which operates in an earth orbit around the Earth and is designed to take readings of precipitation levels, clouds, winds, and lightning strikes. If the system detects a significant change in the weather, it will trigger a website update, which will then be relayed to the weather model operator who is in the process of updating and maintaining the website. This is a vital function in the monitoring of severe weather around the world, because the weather can have a dramatic impact on the delivery of emergency services and the way emergency situations are managed.
Global Positioning System-Moons (GPS-MOons) are operational environmental satellites. They operate in geostationary orbit around the Earth and are designed to relay precise timing data from the operational satellites. This data is then translated into a digital signal which is decoded and sent back to the ground station where it is used to track precipitation, clouds, and lightning. These signals are then transmitted down to the Global Positioning System-operated earth station. Once there, operators at the earth station can use the information to determine where a satellite may be pointing so that they can prioritize sending emergency services or supplies to affected locations.
With an operational GOES-R and an upgraded and fully-operational Fannui 3, China’s space weather monitoring is sure to stay on pace with advancing technology and demand. The next decade will no doubt bring forth new demands for better weather forecasts. With the next two satellites, China’s space weather mission will be a step ahead of everyone else.