Multispectral imaging device focuses on lowering cost of Earth observation

The cost of Earth observation could be brought down with an imaging device being developed for use on nanosatellites.

Earth observation

The project at Strathclyde University is investigating the production of a multispectral imaging (MSI) device which is smaller than conventional instruments and could be installed in nanosatellites to monitor climate change, observe ocean activity, detect forest fires or track shipping traffic.

The study one of seven projects to secure funding from the UK Space Agency’s (UKSA) Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation (CEOI).

Researchers from Strathclyde’s Department of Physics are working with partners, led by product design company Wideblue, to produce MSI technology with a compact payload. It will be designed, built and then tested by taking images during a drone flight.

According to Strathclyde University, a commercial MSI satellite can be up to 5.7m x2.5m x2.5mm and 2.8 tonnes whereas the new device could fit on a 4kg satellite measuring 10cm x10cm x30cm size and would orbit around 500km above Earth.

Physics Lecturer and lead researcher in the project Dr Daniel Oi said: “Because of the novel way it operates, this instrument could open up ways of doing Earth observation which are different from conventional operations.

“As nanosatellites are smaller, they don’t have the capacity to take a lot of data, process it and communicate it. The technology we are developing allows us to reduce the amount of data collected, with sensitivity to specific events or targets, and will enable more efficient monitoring of Earth.

“Instead of a small number of very expensive MSI satellites, our instrument could be mounted on many nanosatellites to monitor the globe continuously. No satellite can be in two places at once, so operating in this way can enable the right data to be collected at the right time.

“The early results of our research have been highly promising and the project is part of a significant and growing space industry in Scotland.”

The project’s partners include the Scottish Centre for Excellence in Satellite Applications, and the Centre for Signal and Image Processing at Strathclyde.