This hyperspectral image cube (layers of the image in hundreds of different EM wavelengths) of terrain allows for detailed analysis of the imaged area, since anomalies and features (such as mineral deposits) of the land would react differently to different EM wavelengths.
Electro-optical devices like cameras and infrared sensors generally observe only one band in the electromagnetic spectrum, i.e. cameras observe the band visible to human eyesight and infrared cameras view the infrared band. Hyperspectral cameras and sensors, on the other hand, can simultaneously view hundreds of electromagnetic bands for a single image, building a layered 'cube' of the image in different electromagnetic wavelengths. The use of such a wide range of wavelengths provides the ability to observe objects which conceal their emissions in one part of the spectrum (i.e. stealth aircraft and thermally suppressed engines) or are hidden (such as underground bunkers).
Since the 1970s, China has a strong history of scientific and civilian utilization of hyperspectral imaging. Space-based platforms include the Chang'e lunar missions and Earth-observation from the Tiangong space station and HJ-1 small satellite. Aircraft-mounted hyperspectral imagers are used for tasks such as environmental surveys, oil prospecting, disaster relief and crop measurement. As computer processing power improves and hyperspectral sensors get smaller, Chinese civilian and military applications are likely to expand.
A key in this program is the China Commercial Remote-sensing Satellite System (CCRSS), to be launched later this year. It can collect data on 328 electromagnetic bands, offering very high resolution of up to 15 meters, according to the researchers from the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth in Beijing. In comparison, the U.S. TacSat 3, launched in 2010, collects only 300 electromagentic bands, at a lower resolution. While it is being launched for commercial users, like most other Chinese earth-observation satellites, it would also be available for military use.
Notably, on January 8, 2016, hyperspectral expert Professor Xiang Libin of the Shanghai Engineering Center for Microsatellites received an award from President Xi Jinping during the 2016 national science and technology awards ceremony, for an unspecified project. Interestingly, Professor Xiang's non-mention on the awards program mirrors the scrubbing of a 2015 Feng Ru aeronautic award handed out to Professor Wang Zhengguo for developing China's first scramjet hypersonic engine.
By Jeffrey Lin and P.W. Singer. | Popular Science.