Nanosatellites for Earth observation are very small, low cost satellites typically weighing kilograms and with volumes of a few liters. NASA has a program called the CubeSat Launch initiative (CSLI) which provides opportunities for nanosatellites to fly inexpensively as auxiliary payloads on rockets supporting major missions. NASA's CubeSats are cube-shaped satellites 10cm x 10cm x 10cm with a volume of about a liter and weighing about 1.3 kilograms.
Three startup satellite companies have already started putting nanosatellite constellations in space, that promise to provide much more frequent revisits per day than existing satellites can provide and at a much lower cost. In April 2013 Planet Labs launched two demonstration satellites, “Dove 1” and “Dove 2”. Planet Labs has already launched 72 cubesats and plans to launch a total 100 of the Earth observing satellites at an altitude of 400 km. The satellites will provide frequent snapshots of the planet at a resolution of about 5 m, allowing users to track changes such as traffic jams, deforestation, construction progress in close to real time.
Skybox Imaging, acquired by Google, has launched the SkySat-1 and SkySat-2 satellites (each larger than nanosatellites at about 100 kg) which are intended to capture sub-meter imagery and HD-video of any spot on earth, multiple times per day to provide timely high-resolution imagery, HD video, and analytics.
In November 2013 two nanosatellites, NanoSatisfi's ArduSat 1 and ArduSat X, supported by Kickstarter crowdfunding were placed in orbit from the International Space Station . NanoSatisfi has since been renamed. Spire Global Inc, has launched 4 out of more than 50 planned remote sensing cubesats into orbit at altitudes of 500–600 km. Spire's remote sensing satellites range from cubesat 1U to 3U and are built with Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) components wherever possible to lower costs. The spacecraft carry multiple sensors including RF sensors that are not restricted by clouds, haze and night.
Spire's business niche is 80 km from any coastline, the three-quarters of the Earth that is either covered by water or considered remote and is not regularly monitored by today's remote-sensing satellites. Spire plans to be able to collect data from any point on Earth every hour.
Spire’s multi-sensor satellites provide a variety of data types such as Automatic Identification System (AIS) service for tracking ships, and weather payloads that measure temperature, pressure and precipitation. Spire plans for a 2 year refresh cycle on each satellite enabling a continual improvement in on-board technology .
Some of the applications Spire is targeting include;
Illegal fishing - Monitoring illegal, under-reported and unregulated fishing.
Trade monitoring - Virtually all global trade transits through areas of the planet otherwise ignored by traditional remote sensing. Spire can deliver reliable data on every ship in every ocean every hour.
Marine domain awareness - Criminal activities such as illegal shipments and clandestine cargo exchange are some of the issues.
Other applications envisioned for the future include;
Insurance - when ships collide determining what actually happened
Environmental impact - in case of oil spills helping to determine who's liable
Asset tracking - finding ships in distress faster
Piracy - vessel tracking that cannot be disabled by pirates
28 Dove Cubesat satellites each weighing about 5 kilograms of Planet Labs' Flock 1 constellation began deploying in early February of this year from the ISS. Planet Labs, San Francisco, California provides medium-resolution (3- to 5-meter) “whole Earth” imaging with high frequency revisits. The constellation is designed to provide low spatial resolution and high temporal resolution. According to Planet Labs the total constellation will be comprised of 100 Cubesat satellites. Up to 10 % of the satellites can fail without affecting the capability of the whole constellation. To date Planet Labs has launched 71 Doves in 18 months on 6 launch vehicles.
Last week the Antares rocket on a mission to the ISS failed. The rocket was carrying 26 Flock 1d satellites. Because the individual Cubesat satellites are very inexpensive compared to a Worldview-3, for example, a launch failure is not catastrophic. Planet Labs' approach to further mitigate the risk of this type of failure is to deploy their fleets of satellites on multiple launch vehicles, from multiple vendors. Planet Labs also place more satellites in orbit than are required so that if satellites fail in orbit they can ensure constellation continuity.
Late breaking: The engine burn was successful and ISRO reports that the Mars Orbiter spacecraft is now in orbit about Mars.
Wednesday Sep 24 India's Mangalyaan or Mars Orbiter Mission probe is scheduled to fire its main engine and small thrusters to slow itself down to insert the probe into an elliptical orbit about Mars. The probe was launched aboard a PSLV-C25 rocket from SDSC SHAR Sriharikota November 5, 2013. There is a simulation video of the Mars Orbit Insertion maneuver. A live webcast of the real event will be broadcast starting Wed 06:45 am IST, Tue 9:15 pm EDT.
The scientific objective of the mission is the remote sensing exploration of Mars surface features, morphology, mineralogy and Martian atmosphere using Indian-manufactured instruments. One key goal is to try to detect methane in the Martian atmosphere, which could be an indicator of biological activity.
Worldview-3 which will support 31 cm resolution is scheduled for launch in 2014. November 6 the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee voted in favor of relaxing commercial satellite imagery resolution restrictions.
In a very interesting perspective on leadership in the geospatial sector Kevin Pomfret reports that the German government has abandoned hard resolution limits on satellite imagery and the French and Russian governments are being urged by local companies to reduce their restrictions on commercial satellite resolution limits to 25 centimeters. Kevin notes that apparently some parts of the U.S. government are unwilling to agree to this reduction [to 25 cm] due to national security concerns even though there are manned aircraft and UAVs that can collect imagery at much better than 25 centimeters in many parts of the world.
Another issue is that commercial UAVs are still illegal in the U.S.
Kevin sees these issues as part of a much broader problem. The vision and leadership that led to commercial remote sensing and Google Earth, the satellite navigation industry based on the U.S.’s Global Positioning System and development of a national spatial data infrastructure for sharing geoinformation between government agencies is now missing. It is also a much more competiive world with many countries launching earth-observation satellites and developing UAVs and other earth-observation technologies.
Kevin recommends that the U.S. government take some immediate steps to regain the momentum,
Reduce resolution restrictions for commercial satellite imagery and update both the U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Policy and NOAA’s regulations on the licensing of commercial remote sensing
Strengthen the technology, policy and legal framework and capacity required to support a robust and world-class national spatial data infrastructure that allows government, industry and citizens to seamlessly exchange geoinformation
Take immediate measures to address the weather satellite gap, including actively engaging the private sector in a more meaningful way
Hasten the FAA’s integration of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) into the civilian air space before an inconsistent patchwork of state laws hinder the clear and uniform approaches needed to safely drive this quickly emerging sector.
NASA's MAVEN Mars mission has been successfully launched aboard an Atlas V by United Launch Alliance. The Atlas V first stage uses a Russian-built RD-180 engine burning kerosene and liquid oxygen (the world's most powerful liquid fuel engine, based on the RD-170 designed and built by the Soviet Union) for its first stage and an American-built RL10 engine burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for its Centaur second stage. (The RL10 was the first liquid hydrogen rocket engine to be built in the United States with the first successful mission occurring in 1963.)
MAVEN has a 10 month trip to Mars. The spacecraft has three sets of instruments. The Particles and Fields Package is six individual instruments that measure different aspects of the solar wind and ionosphere of the planet. The Remote Sensing Package will measure properties of the upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The Neutral Gas and Ion Mass Spectrometer will measure the composition and isotopes of thermal neutrals (uncharged molecules) and ions in the Martian atmosphere.
It is thought that Mars had a thick atmosphere 4 billion years ago that was similar in composition to Earth’s atmosphere as well as liquid surface water. The current theory of what happened to these is that the molten metal at the core of Mars solidified. Mars' magnetic field weakened dramatically so that the planet was no longer protected from solar winds. Subsequently Mars lost its atmosphere and its liquid water leaving Mars a desert. MAVEN's instruments are designed to measure the solar wind hitting Mars and the remnants of Mars' atmosphere to attempt to confirm or refute this theory.
One of the things that has transformed and is transforming many industries is the availability of high resolution digital satellite photography. This used to be a government preserve, primarily defence. Commercial Earth observation started around 1996. In the last decade the two companies that have played a leading role in the commercial application of satellite and other types of high resolution photography are Digital Globe and GeoEye, who have just announced that the boards of directors of both companies have unanimously approved a merger agreement.
GeoEye is best known for GeoEye-1, claimed to be the world's highest resolution commercial earth-imaging satellite, launched September, 2008. GeoEye-1 is able to simultaneously acquire 0.41-meter panchromatic and 1.65-meter multispectral imagery. GeoEye-2 is scheduled to be launched in early 2013.
DigitalGlobe owns and operates a constellation of high-resolution commercial earth imaging satellites, QuickBird (November, 2000), WorldView-1 (September, 2007) and WorldView-2 (October, 2009). WorldView-3 is expected to be launched in 2014. Digital Globe also provides aerial wall-to-wall coverage at 30 cm resolution (Clear30) of the continental United States and Western Europe.
A 747 with the space shuttle Discovery took off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center this morning. The shuttle will land at Dulles International Airport this morning and will be on exhibit at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy annex at Dulles.
Discovery's first launch was on Aug. 30, 1984.
Mission: SBS-D; Satellite Business System SYNCOM IV-2; Solar Wing TELSTAR Space Shuttle: Discovery Launch Pad: 39A Launch Weight: 263,477 pounds Launched: August 30, 1984 at 8:41:50 a.m. EDT Landing Site: Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. Landing: September 5, 1984 at 6:37:54 a.m. PDT Landing Weight: 201,674 pounds Mission Duration: 6 days, 0 hours, 56 minutes, 4 seconds Returned to KSC: September 10, 1984 Orbit Altitude: 184 nautical miles Orbit Inclination: 28.5 degrees Miles Traveled: 2.5 million
This was the 35th shuttle mission to the space station and the final flight of Discovery.