Thursday 23 November 2017

Satellite spots China's first aircraft carrier at sea

A commercial satellite operator says it has captured a rare image of China's first aircraft carrier as it sailed through the Yellow Sea, after going through an exercise that's the 21st-century equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack.

Satellite spots China's first aircraft carrier at sea

DigitalGlobe said the aircraft carrier showed up on a cloud-filled picture snapped on Dec. 8 by its polar-orbiting QuickBird satellite from a height of 280 miles (450 kilometers). An analyst spotted the ship while checking the image on Tuesday, said Stephen Wood, the director of the company's analysis center.

"There is something that is always indispensable about having people involved," Wood told me. The ship was identified "using a combination of the satellite imagery plus open-source material on the Internet, and geography," he said, but "at the end of the day, it still comes down to a person."

Experts have been hoping for months to get a glimpse of the aircraft carrier at sea. The former Soviet Union started building the ship, originally known as the Varyag, but never finished it. After the Soviet breakup, the Varyag ended up in the hands of the Ukrainian government. The ship was auctioned off to the Chinese in 1998. Since then, the Varyag, which has reportedly been rechristened the Shi Lang, has been under refurbishment for sea service.

"This is a ship and a story that has had legs for many years," Wood said.