Weather-proof satellite capable of imaging any spot on Earth

The development phase of a new synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite system has been completed, offering coverage of any spot on Earth in all conditions.

Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) has combined an adapted version of its SSTL-300 satellite, plus S-band SAR payload developed with Astrium, to create the 400kg NovaSAR-S system.

‘Based on highly efficient S-band solid-state amplifier technology, NovaSAR-S has been designed to provide detailed imaging performance for a variety of orbits,’ said Luis Gomes of SSTL. ‘It offers space-based radar capability to customers who might not have considered it possible — all for the equivalent cost of a traditional low-cost optical Earth observation mission.’

Radar images reveal surface textures instead of reflected light and they achieve this by illuminating its target with a microwave beam, then recording the signal bouncing back.

NovaSAR-S will acquire medium-resolution radar imagery of 6–30m ground sample distances, depending on the viewing mode being employed.

Its four viewing modes are said to be optimised for a range of applications, including flood monitoring, agricultural crop assessment, forest monitoring, land cover classification, disaster management and maritime applications, notably ship tracking and oil spill detection.

Intended for equatorial or polar low-Earth orbits, NovaSAR-S offers high data throughput of at least one million square kilometres per day, observing in a variety of polarisation combinations to add ‘colour’ and detail to acquisitions.

The system is designed to function either independently or as part of a constellation and SSTL believes a trio of NovaSAR-S satellites could image any point on the globe every day.

According to SSTL, the challenge in delivering NovaSAR-S was accommodating the power and processing requirements within a small, low-cost satellite platform designed for shared launches.

In separate news, SSTL has announced that it is to offer the SSTL-50, a £2m satellite platform that incorporates advanced avionics with flight-proven systems.

Doug Liddle, head of science said: ‘We call it technology leapfrogging — we are offering our customers a platform with the very latest technologies combined with the peace of mind of our heritage systems. It’s also a very flexible design, making it suitable for a wide range of applications including imaging, communications or even space science.’