The technological competition between the United States and China is growing at breakneck speeds.
A small and relatively low-cost satellite by China can allegedly take high-resolution images of cities in mere seconds, The South China Morning Post first reported. The images are allegedly so detailed that they can be used to identify specific military vehicles and weapons.
An impressive act proving this statement was performed by Beijing-3, a small commercial satellite launched by China in June. Beijing-3 conducted an in-depth scan of the San Francisco Bay, which corresponds to roughly 1,470 sq mi (3,800 sq km), within 42 seconds, according to scientists involved in the satellite project who published the results this month in the Chinese peer-reviewed journal Spacecraft Engineering.
The image was captured from an altitude of 310 miles (500 km) and had a resolution of 19.6 inches (50 cm) per pixel. Moreover, the satellite was able to acquire images while rotating at up to 10 degrees per second during the performance test over North America and other areas.
It was able to accomplish the feat without compromising image quality. In order to capture the finest images without any blurring, the team devised a novel technology to reduce vibration by an order of magnitude even when the satellite was spinning and pitching at record speeds.
The researchers said in a CCTV-13 broadcast segment that the mobility of Beijing-3 allows it to survey large regions with only a single sweep, such as the 3,915-mile-long (6,300-km) Yangtze River, which is Asia's longest river. And if the Beijing-3 is fitted with artificial intelligence, it'll be able to monitor up to 500 locations around the world at a rate of up to 100 trips per day.
The Beijing-3's imagery, however, isn't sharp enough to compete with U.S. satellites like the Lockheed Martin-built Worldview-4, which can record images at a resolution of 12 inches per pixel but was deactivated in 2019 due to a stabilizing system malfunction after three years in orbit, Business Insider reported. Still, Chinese researchers claim Beijing-3's response time is two to three times faster than Worldview-4, putting it into a more advantageous position.
The news comes following a recent report by researchers at Harvard University which stated China could overtake the United States in the technological front in the next 10 years, thanks to its meteoric rise in the last two decades.