How China’s SDGSAT-1 satellite will help distinguish between different light sources

How China's SDGSAT-1 satellite will help distinguish between different light sources

Chinese scientists are using the capabilities of the SDGSAT-1 science satellite to address the growing problem of light pollution in cities. A recent study by the Aerospace Information Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, published in the International Journal of Digital Earth, highlights the innovative use of this satellite.

The satellite provides high-resolution nighttime lighting data to combat light pollution

The study points to a shift to LED lighting in the quest for decarbonization. While LEDs are energy efficient, they also pose a new problem – blue light pollution. This has led to the need to develop a tool that can quickly and accurately identify different types of light sources on a large scale.

SDGSAT-1 is designed to meet this need. It is not just another satellite, it provides high-resolution multispectral nighttime light data that other sources do not offer.

Taking Beijing as a testbed, scientists demonstrated the satellite’s prowess with a staggering 92 percent accuracy in detecting artificial lighting at night and a 95 percent hit rate on streetlights. The satellite images show the structure of the city’s lighting, especially along the 5th ring road, offering a new perspective on how light pollution varies in different parts of the urban jungle.

The data obtained is not just a map of bright spots, it shows significant differences in the illumination of different types of roads and streetlights. This indicates the influence of urban design and infrastructure on the implementation of lighting technologies.

SDGSAT-1 is not just a one-trick pony. Launched on November 5, 2021, it is the first space-based science satellite designed to contribute to the implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Its mission is to monitor from the sky how humans, nature, and sustainable development interact.

Last September, SDGSAT-1’s contribution to our understanding of urban growth and sustainability was highlighted when it provided the first-ever global atlas of remotely sensed urban nighttime lighting data. This atlas is more than just a collection of beautiful nighttime photos of cities; it is a comprehensive 10-meter resolution dataset covering 147 cities in 105 countries – a treasure trove for researchers working on sustainable urban development.


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