After setting several milestones in the space technology and research sector, China is set to launch its first software-based satellite called Tianzhi-1 in the second half of the year and will be conducting in-orbit experimental verification. It is intended to be majorly beneficial to the public and to serve the national defense system as well.

What are software-based satellites?

A software-based satellite takes advantage of the internet’s open source and can function similar to the Android operating system to research and develop software and hardware.  It can also provide services such as precise navigation, space monitor, environmental changes and timing services at any place on Earth. Such satellites can be viewed as a computer in space which is capable of collecting, storing, processing, computing and sending the required data back to the ground. Employing the services of these satellites, customers can use it to develop, test, and debug their software. For instance, take an environmental protection organization that needs to inspect water pollution level in some area. It can rent such a satellite which is capable of providing it with high-definition pictures of the area. By using the uploaded software, the organization can obtain the results and estimate the rate at which the pollution is spreading.

The usage of the satellite is open to general public use via their smartphone devices unlike, the traditional ones. Contrary to conventional satellites that have single functionality, software-defined satellites can meet a variety of demands coming from different customers, just by changing and updating the software to be used, which in turn can cut down the costs drastically. 

About Tianzhi-1

The CAS’ Bureau of Major R&D supported Tianzhi-1 project officially began in 2017. The main aim of the Chinese software-based satellite is to lay the foundation for a network and to enable testing of essential technologies required for the software-defined satellite system. It will be carrying a small computing platform which will enable it to process the data collected in orbit before sending them back to Earth for different users. Additionally, it will have four China’s homemade smartphones which have efficient calculative capabilities and is energy efficient. The satellite is also capable of automatic operations which can drastically reduce the pressure of the satellite control system situated on the ground. 

China plans to send one of such satellite every year to further enrich the system. The later additions to the software-based satellite constellation, Tianzhi-2 and Tianzhi-3 are already being developed.