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Smallsats, CubeSats, and Clay Pigeons in Utah

Last month, SST-US staff made their annual pilgrimage to Utah for the 26th Small Satellite Conference. This friendly but important event brings together engineers, developers, and enthusiasts from the small satellite industry and academic researchers to encourage collaboration and discussion on the development and potential of small satellites – and it is growing every year with a reported 1,150 attendees and more than 400 organizations represented this year.
Surrey in Utah

There could not be a better time to talk about small satellites. The development of more capable and cost-effective space missions has been our focus since Surrey’s founder Sir Martin Sweeting attended the first Small Sat conference some 26 years ago – with some radical ideas! Back then, we might have been outnumbered outside the walls of Utah State University, however there is a growing acceptance from commercial operators and government agencies that small satellites can, and must, fulfill important missions if space programs are to continue their work improving our lives and our scientific knowledge. New developments such as smallsat Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), high-resolution small satellites, and of course nanosats – catalyzed by the CubeSat movement – are pushing the boundaries of cost vs. performance and that’s what this gathering of minds is all about.

Some of the best things to come out of smallsat development are the possibilities offered by constellations. Our Senior System Engineer Becky Cudzilo presented a paper “The Ability of a Small Satellite Constellation to Tip and Cue Other Commercial Assets” that she coauthored with GeoEye and COM-DEV USA. This paper explores the benefits of combining a constellation of small Automatic Identification System (AIS) satellites with small satellite SAR and high-resolution optical Earth observation assets to increase situational awareness and reduce tactical response times to dangerous or illegal maritime activities.

This year’s conference theme was “Enhancing global awareness through small satellites” and the US Geological Survey’s Brenda Jones gave the keynote on the co-operation of small satellites in supporting critical global needs such as disaster monitoring and response. This is an area close to our hearts: Surrey has been contributing to global disaster response efforts for more than a decade through the Disaster Monitoring Constellation, notably helping in the response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Japan Earthquake of 2011.


Brenda Jones gives keynote
 

On the theme of disaster relief, the paper “NovaSAR – Bringing Radar Capability to the Disaster Monitoring Constellation” presented by Phil Davies of Surrey discussed how innovations in amplifier electronics and novel system engineering have made it possible to offer space-based SAR at a cost comparable to optical Earth observation satellites for day-and-night operation.

Phil Davies presented “Commissioning of the NigeriaSat-2 High-Resolution Imaging Mission,” which discussed the design challenges of building a satellite accommodating a high-resolution 2.5 meter imaging payload and advanced off-pointing capabilities for stereo, mosaic, and other imaging modes.


Surrey booth in Utah


No blog about this year’s conference would be complete without mentioning CubeSats, which have allowed academic researchers to build low-cost technology demonstration nanosats to fly experimental payloads and experiment with new mission concepts. As Jeff Foust put it in his conference report last week: “Cubesats get big” – it has been a busy and energetic few years for CubeSats, and the availability of standardized components and subsystems has fueled busy academic and commercial R&D. Of course, we are no stranger to CubeSats having built the 3U Android smartphone-powered STRaND-1, with the Microsoft Kinect docking STRaND-2 pair of satellites in the pipeline!

It was a busy show for us. We would like to thank all our friends, colleagues, and the CAL Poly students who visited our booth, and to thank the SpaceX team for their fantastic closing party. We look forward to seeing you all for next year’s gathering and we will practice clay pigeon shooting and archery in the meantime!

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14 September 20120 Comments1 Comment

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