China’s Polar-observing Satellite Completes Antarctic Mission

China’s first polar-observing satellite has completed its Antarctic observation mission after orbiting Earth for six months.

Since it was launched on Sept. 12, 2019, the satellite called “Ice Pathfinder” (Code: BNU-1) has sent back more than 1,000 images covering the south polar region, according to a statement by its operation team Friday.

It has observed two vast ice collapses in the continent, one occurred on the Amery Ice Shelf on Sept. 25, 2019, and the other on the Pine Island Glacier in February this year. The satellite has provided continuous monitoring of these ice calving events, obtaining key satellite imagery and data, said the operation team leader Chen Zhuoqi, also an associate professor of the School of Geospatial Engineering and Science under the Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou.

Scientists of the satellite project have participated in the country’s ongoing 36th Antarctic expedition. Apart from data acquisition of ground features near research base Zhongshan Station, they also used drone technology to do remote sensing research, to support “satellite-drone-ground” synchronous scientific experiments in the Antarctic.

Its data will also be used to study global climate changes and develop Arctic shipping routes, according to Cheng Xiao, lead scientist of the project.

In the past, Chinese scientists conducted polar studies mainly based on data collected by vessels and research stations. The use of remote sensing satellite technology will enable them to monitor and obtain imagery and data of difficult-to-access areas.

“The Ice Pathfinder will rectify China’s lack of polar observation data and reduce the country’s dependence on imports of the technology,” Cheng said.

The polar-observing satellite, with a design life of about one year, weighs only 16 kg. It was initiated by scientists from the Beijing Normal University and developed by Shenzhen Aerospace Dongfanghong Development Ltd.

It is equipped with high-resolution cameras that can achieve full coverage of the Antarctic and Arctic in five days. It also has an automatic identification system for vessels to navigate through parts or the entirety of polar regions.

The operation team will soon release the Antarctic data to support Chinese and international polar research, and the satellite is going to start its first Arctic observation mission.

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