China launches cube satellites for tracking aircraft


China has launched three cube satellites (CubeSats), which can help to track civil aircraft and ships and avoid tragedies like the missing flight MH370.

The three STU-2 CubeSats weigh 6.8 kg in total.

The CubeSats were launched on September 25 and have entered their designated orbit, Xinhua news agency quoted STU-2 mission’s chief designer Wu Shufan as saying.

The three spacecraft are equipped with polar region observation cameras as well as automatic identification system (AIS) receivers for information from ships and automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) receivers for messages sent from civil flights.

The ADS-B system was developed to be installed on civil aircraft and transmit readings of the flight’s position, height, speed, direction and other information automatically every second to receivers on the ground or in the air. Currently more than 70 percent of aircraft have such systems installed.

The paths and traffic flow of civil flights within the satellites’ monitoring area may be collected in real time.

“If there are enough satellites in orbit to cover a region wide enough, a specific flight could be tracked and that may help with spotting, search and rescue in cases like Malaysia Airlines flight MH370,” Wu said.

Wu said the mission, the first of its kind by China, is a step in the country’s satellite network development for civil aircraft and ship monitoring.

Compared with other integral satellites, cube spacecraft are generally smaller, lighter and much more economical in development and production costs.