China yesterday launched a satellite jointly developed with Brazil and designed to take high-definition images of the Earth's surface for civilian uses such as agricultural production and environmental protection.
The 1.45 tonne 02B is the third Sino-Brazilian satellite put into orbit following previous launches in 1999 and 2003.
It lifted off shortly before noon on a Long March 4B carrier rocket from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Centre in Shanxi province and separated from the rocket 12 minutes later, Xinhua reported.
'China and Brazil will co-operate to develop two more earth resources satellites,' Zhang Qingjun , chief designer of the satellite, told state media.
'At least one of the satellites will be launched in one to two years. If everything goes smoothly, we can provide data to our users until 2015.'
The previous two Sino-Brazilian satellites have produced more than 1 million images and have 1,200 users in China and 3,000 users in Brazil. All three were remote sensing satellites that could collect information through high-definition cameras, Xinhua said.
The China Academy of Space Technology and the Brazilian National Space Research Institute started co-operating in satellite development in 1988. Mr Zhang expressed hope that both sides could 'continue to learn from each other'.
While Beijing has stressed the co-operation was mainly for civilian uses, Antony Wong, president of the International Military Association in Macau, pointed out that every satellite could be of potential military use because all kinds of information - such as meteorological and navigational data - were of use to the military.
'Perhaps the only thing that's unclear is the percentage of the information that would be used for military purposes,' Mr Wong said.
The mainland's aerospace work has come under close watch by the international community, especially its development of an ambitious Compass global positioning system - comprising 35 satellites - which offer military and civilian real-time services as a potential rival to the Global Positioning System (GPS) controlled by the US Department of Defence. The system is expected to be completed by 2017.
China also plans to launch a lunar probe, Chang'e 1, later this year.