China and Imagery Intelligence
The Satellite Area Monitoring System had been developed gradually based on self-reliance Information, derived from tens of thousand surface features films taken by recoverable remote sensing satellites and earth surface data obtained by other satellites after processing, cannot be or is difficult to be obtained by other means. The information had provided an important basis for China's land planning and macro-economic decision, and played an important role in the modernization of national defense.
The onboard space optical remote sensors developed by China in the 20th century consist of the film visible camera, the transmission visible-infrared multispectal scanner and CCD camera. The multispectal scanners used for meteorological satellites are developed by Shanghai Institute for Technological Physics and other remote sensors are developed by Beijing Institute of Space Mechanics and Electricity.
The film visible camera is the main payload of the recoverable remote sensing satellite. China has successfully developed the FSW-0 prism scanning panoramic camera, the FSW-1 frame camera, the FSW-2 nodal panoramic camera and three kinds of star cameras. The focal length and size of the FSW-1 frame camera are comparable to those of space shuttle orbiter. The main performances of the FSW-2 nodal panoramic camera have reached the level of the same kinds of products of other countries.
China has further improved the standards of its space cameras through the development of three models of such cameras. In the production of space-to-ground cameras, for instance, China has reached a high standard through the development of prismatic scanner panoramic cameras, frame-type measuring cameras and "nodal" panoramic cameras.
For any country, the true reconnaissance capability of its existing reconnaissance satellites is top secret and is never made known to the public. China is no exception. The outside world knows precious little about the resolution power of China's reconnaissance satellites.
The stellar cameras on China's reconnaissance satellites are used for the precision measurement of the position of satellites and ground targets. At first China's stellar cameras are only capable of taking photos of fourth magnitude stars. Now they can take photos of stars up to the seventh magnitude. The number of stars photographed has also been increased from about ten to nearly 200. This is a big improvement. It shows in a way that China's aerophotographic technology has reached higher standards and that China is now able to accurately locate any spot on earth and therefore provide target indicators for strategic weapons.
China's Academy of Space Technology (CAST) engineers have conducted design work on a tactical imagery system and associated mobile ground receiving stations. The system is based on small satellite technology, uses a charged coupled device (CCD) array, and, when operating in a 700-kilometer sun synchronous orbit, is designed to have a five meter resolution.
On August 10, 1960, after 12 successive failures, the United States launched Discoverer-13, the first successful CORONA satellite. The first mission was a test vehicle that carried an American flag, but no film. The first intelligence operation to return film occurred eight days later. Air Force C-119, and later C-130, planes recovered the film return capsules in mid-air as they drifted downward over the Pacific Ocean. A Kodak facility in Rochester, New York, developed the film, which was then sent to Washington, DC, for analysis. The CORONA program continued until 1972 and produced over 800,000 images.
Developed in the 1960s as CORONA follow-on systems, the KH-7 and KH-9 film-return satellites provided imagery of Soviet and Chinese nuclear installations, missile sites, and other activities in “denied territories.” Between July 1963 and June 1967, NRO operated 38 KH-7 missions. Only 30 missions obtained usable images, totaling about 43,000 linear feet. Between June 1971 and October 1984, NRO conducted 19 KH-9 missions, and attempted a twentieth mission in April 1986, which exploded on launch. The KH-7, America’s first successful high-resolution imagery satellite, complemented the broad area search capabilities of the KH-9. In effect, the KH-9 determined that something was worth seeing on the ground; the KH-7 then acquired the detailed imagery for analysis.
However, de-orbiting capsules, developing the film, and examining the images took weeks; America needed a faster method of gaining intelligence from space. On December 19, 1976, NRO launched the KH-11 near real-time electro-optical satellite. As demand for satellite reconnaissance grew, NRO developed increasingly sophisticated technology to collect and process imagery and signals intelligence.
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