Small satellite project aims for next-generation SAR services

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Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd and Oxford Space Systems are to develop a low-cost radar satellite that provides all-weather Earth observation at any time of the day or night.

SSTL deployable SAR demo

Set for development in the UK, the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) will consist of OSS’ highly stowage-efficient deployable ‘wrapped-rib’ SAR antenna and high bandwidth radar instrument and RF system from SSTL. The companies plan to launch their first mission in 2021.

In 2018 SSTL launched NovaSAR-1, a 450kg low-cost S-Band SAR technology demonstration mission which is acquiring SAR data for the UK Space Agency, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

SAR allows all-weather Earth Observation at any time of day or night.  According to SSTL, anticipated applications will employ object detection and feature extraction from single polarisation images, mainly focused on manmade objects and so-called pattern-of-life information. Applications include disaster monitoring and management, urban planning, transport management, ship identification and tracking, and high temporal constellation-enabled monitoring for security and environmental risk management.

“The novel antenna technology from OSS combined with SSTL’s low-cost remote sensing systems are key enablers to realise a new generation of disruptive, cost-versus-performance, SAR and mixed SAR/optical missions” said Andrew Cawthorne, SSTL’s director of sales and business development. “We believe that there is a strong market for this new SAR payload, with a shift in the market towards small satellites in LEO constellations delivering increased revisit times and a demand for non-optical EO data or combined SAR/optical data.”

SSTL adds that compared to optical sensors, the any-time/region imaging capability of SAR makes it ideal for surveillance missions, which can serve national security and environmental monitoring applications. A small satellite constellation approach that can be enhanced by launches of additional satellites at short notice would also fulfil requirements for resilience and responsiveness. The UK’s National Space Technology Programme is funding the collaboration.