2022 marks ‘year of launch’ for BRICS remote satellite network
Space cooperation among members enhances mutual trust, boosts economic recovery
Published: Jun 22, 2022 11:12 PM


As the 14th BRICS Summit kicks off, China National Space Administration (CNSA) revealed to the Global Times the latest development and more details on cooperation in joint observation and data sharing of the remote sensing satellites among the five major emerging economies -Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa.

2022 witnessed the successful opening of the first meeting of the joint commission on space cooperation of the BRICS countries hosted by the CNSA, as China is the chair of the BRICS this year. 

According to the CNSA in a statement it provided to the Global Times, 2022 will be the "year of launch" for the cooperation on the constellation of remote sensing satellites data sharing and joint observation, and also a key construction year for space cooperation among BRICS countries. 

Since 2021, BRICS cooperation on remote sensing sphere has included six satellites and five ground stations. 

China's Gaofen-6, Ziyuan-3 02, the CBERS-4 co-developed by Brazil and China, Russia's Kanopus-V type, and India's Resourcesat-2 and 2A joined the mechanism for joint observation and data sharing. Ground stations in Sanya of South China's Hainan Province, Cuiabá in southwestern Brazil, Moscow, India's Hyderabad and South Africa's Hartebeesthoek, are also supporting the program. 

Since BRICS was forged more than a decade ago, the member countries have achieved fruitful results in cooperation in such areas as economy, trade, politics, security, technological innovation, as well as cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

Remote sensing satellite technology, with advantages including its high-resolution, full-range and global observation capabilities, has increasingly become key measures to cope with global challenges in the 21st century, such as the crops and food crisis, and water resource shortage as well as global climate change, the CNSA explained. 

The strategic significance of the cooperation in the space sector could enhance solidarity among the BRICS countries, increase the efficiency of satellite observation and realize the resource sharing, and boost the bilateral ties, multilateral ties among the BRICS countries, observers said.

China, according to the country's national space administration, envisions a two-stage development plan for the BRICS remote sensing satellite cooperation.

The primary stage is a virtual constellation of five satellites - one from each member countries. The second stage will see a more coordinated cooperation in accordance with space development plans of each member countries. The countries will jointly formulate satellite constellation standards and coordinate satellite condition and data transmission ports to achieve a more unified data product and services - which would mark the construction stage of a real constellation.

According to the CNSA, as of January 2022, China had 499 satellites in orbit and 169 for Russia, 61 for India, 13 for Brazil and 3 for South Africa. 

In May, a joint commission on space cooperation of the BRICS countries was established, kicking off a new chapter of joint observation and data sharing of remote sensing satellites among the five member states. 

Speaking at the first commission meeting via video, Zhang Kejian, head of the CNSA, noted that the establishment of the commission will guide the remote sensing sharing mechanism to better help the socioeconomic development of the BRICS countries and meet common challenges, such as climate change, disaster relief and environmental protection.

Before the commission's founding, an agreement on jointly building a "virtual constellation of remote sensing satellites" was first signed in August 2021, allowing space agencies of BRICS countries to set up a data sharing mechanism.

As a major space power in its respective region, the five BRICS members have great potentials in exploring more cooperation in the field. However, a number of challenges still lay ahead fueled by geopolitical factors and the impact of COVID-19, such as a deficit in mutual trust, loosening ties of interest, and a decline in collective action. 

In light of these challenges, the signing of the agreement in 2021 has opened a new path in BRICS members' partnership in high-technology fields, CNSA said.  

To ensure cooperation in space, political mutual trust should be guaranteed. With the pandemic still raging around the world, economic recovery is ever more difficult, and the evolution of the international order is profound and complex. 

BRICS countries are also facing challenges such as changes in the political environment of member countries, and the continuous smearing and suppression by Western countries. 

The constellation cooperation, which could easily form a consensus, could contribute to strengthening political mutual trust among the five member states.  Cooperation in the field of space also helps BRICS countries participate in global governance, especially outer space governance, CNSA noted.