Venezuela's first Earth-observation spacecraft is also China's first export of a high-resolution optical-imaging spacecraft. The 880-kg (1,940-lb.) Venezuelan Remote-Sensing Satellite 1 (VRSS-1) was launched Sept. 29, 2012, on a Chinese Long March 2D rocket (see photo) and now provides land and vegetation observations aimed at assessing Venezuela's soil and water resources, collecting images for urban planning, monitoring illegal mining and drug activities, and supporting national defense.

Venezuela signed the VRSS-1 contract with Beijing-based China Great Wall Industry Corp. in May. The satellite's construction and launch are estimated to have cost $140 million. China Great Wall also launched Venezuela's first communications satellite, VeneSat-1 in 2008. Venezuelan space agency ABAE is managing in-orbit operations for the bulk of VRSS-1's five-year Earth-monitoring mission.

Based on the China Academy of Space Technology's CAST-2000 satellite bus, VRSS-1 is three-axis stabilized, offering highly precise pointing and a maximum maneuver capability of ±35 deg.

From its sun-synchronous orbit at 640 km (400 mi.) altitude, VRSS-1 has a revisiting time of four days with two Panchromatic/Multispectral Cameras that provide better than 2.5-meter (8-ft.) resolution in black-and-white mode and 10-meter ground-sample distance in multispectral mode with a combinational swath width of 57 km. In addition, two Wide-Swath Multispectral Cameras provide color imagery at 16-meter ground-sample distance and a swath width of 369 km.

While U.S. regulations prevent most spacecraft built using U.S. parts from being exported to China for launch, Beijing has expanded its effort to sell commercial communications and remote-sensing satellites for export, offering turnkey systems that combine construction, launch, insurance and financing for programs in emerging space economies, primarily in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

China also has conducted training for satellite operators, space scientists and engineers in countries such as Nigeria and Pakistan. Currently, more than 70 personnel are being trained in Bolivia in preparation for launch of the country's first telecommunications satellite, the $300 million Tupac Katari, slated for late December.

Tap the icon in the digital edition of AW&ST for a look at VRSS-1's instruments and imaging capabilities, or go to AviationWeek.com/vrss1