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The first Chinese space-based platform for earthquake monitoring was launched at 3:51 pm on Friday from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center in northwestern China.
The satellite is an important platform for studying the electromagnetic environment of Earth and has vital applications in research into the precursors of earthquakes, said Zheng Guoguang, head of the China Earthquake Administration.
The seismo-electromagnetic satellite ZH 1 is named after Zhang Heng (AD 78-139), inventor of the seismoscope, an instrument that records the occurrence of an earthquake. The satellite fills a blank in China"s exploration of the global geomagnetic field, the ionospheric environment and its variations, which are closely related to earthquakes, Zheng said.
The launch marks the preliminary establishment of a dynamic three-dimensional earthquake monitoring system throughout the country by filling monitoring gaps in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and sea regions when using ground-based networks, he said.
It also promotes studies in geoscience, space science and space-based weather warnings, provides data support for communication and navigation and advances basic science research.
"It cannot predict earthquakes directly, which remains a difficult problem worldwide," said Zheng. Still, "geophysical field exploration will definitely contribute to the future development of an earthquake monitoring and prediction system".
Research and development for the satellite was started in August 2013, said Zhao Jian, an official at the China National Space Administration who was in charge of the project.
The 730-kilogram satellite is cube-shaped, measures 1.4 meters on each side and has six 4-meter-long booms, according to the administration.
It ascended to a sun-synchronous orbit 507 kilometers high. The low Earth orbit requires it to have a high electromagnetic "cleanness" so it can precisely detect subtle changes in the Earth"s magnetic field without interference, Zhao said.
"It needs high measurement accuracy. It"s just like detecting an ant on an elephant, while at the same time needing to sense the subtle feelings of the elephant," said Zhou Bin, one of the chief designers of the satellite.
With a designed service life of five years, ZH-1 is the first Chinese satellite launched for geophysical field exploration. A second satellite, with a more accurate measurement capability, is expected to be launched in 2020, the administration said.
Friday"s launch also carried aloft an Italian instrument for high energy particle detection.