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Small satellite conference focuses on constellations

This year’s Small Satellite Conference at Utah State University focuses on the manifold benefits of constellations. With purse strings tightening, the formidable capability of small satellites cannot be overlooked – the ability to build a complex space-based system with reduced risk and low capital investment of multiple small satellites is a compelling argument for any application.
The five-strong RapidEye constellation provides rapid revisit
“Small satellite constellations: Strength in numbers” Is the theme of this year’s conference. At Surrey we see this strength as the ability to deliver affordable and innovative applications by replacing a single asset with several very capable spacecraft. This not only distributes the capabilities and operational risk, but also opens the door to new applications.

The five-satellite RapidEye constellation provides high-resolution, 5-meter optical imagery for geospatial applications, and the imagery sales to private and government customers provide the German company with returns on its initial investment. This business model only became feasible with the availability of cost-effective SSTL-150 satellites.

Because both RapidEye and the DMC Constellation of satellites coordinate multiple sensors, they also offer new possibilities that are changing the way Earth is monitored. Landsat 5, and the recently commissioned Landsat 8 are the crown jewels of government space programs providing free satellite imagery to the world on a fourteen-day cycle – meanwhile the constellations of small commercial Earth observation satellites are delivering daily information that can track urban development, changes in a farmer’s crops, or illegal logging in the Amazon as shown in this DMCii image below © DMCii 2012.

Matto Grosso, Brazil

The benefits of small satellite constellations are not limited to Earth observation. On Tuesday, Surrey’s Dr. Alex Da Silva Curiel introduced Technical Session VI with a joint technical paper about the use of small satellite constellations for the meteorology and climate program FORMOSAT-7/COSMIC -2. This innovative collaboration between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. and National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL) in Taiwan will use a constellation of small satellites to observe and monitor global meteorology, climate, and the ionosphere.

Small satellites once played a role in operational meteorology, but were soon overtaken by larger and more capable polar and geostationary platforms. This joint paper written by Surrey staff in collaboration with NARL’s Chung-Huei (Vicky) Chu, Chen-Joe Fong, and Guey-Shin Chang showed how improvements in the capabilities of small satellites deployed in constellations, and innovative payload and measurement techniques mean that a group of smaller satellites can now offer abilities which cannot be achieved with a single satellite of any size. Surrey is currently developing the first phase of six satellites for the constellation.

One of the biggest constellations success stories is GPS, its large and complex satellites providing indispensable services to the world. We are under contract with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) to investigate cost reduction and augmentation of the current GPS constellation through the application of the small satellite approach.


15 August 20130 Comments1 Comment

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