EO Satellite Launches, Planned Launches and Deorbits

Image acquired by the inspection camera on board TechDemoSat-1 showing the Icarus-1 sail deployed with a view of Earth beyond. The equipment top left is the satellite’s Antenna Pointing Mechanism. Credit SSTL.

Whilst we’ve been talking about the exciting things from ESA’s Living Planet, there’s been quite a number of launches, planned launches and de-orbits within the industry.

To start with, on the 22nd May, India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) took off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota carrying the RISAT-2B radar-imaging Earth Observation (EO) satellite which it sent into a drifting orbit at 555 km altitude.

The satellite carries an X-Band Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) with a 3.6 m antenna and supports the previously launched RISAT-2 constellation. The satellite will provide all-weather capabilities for applications such as agriculture, forestry, soil moisture, geology, sea ice, coastal monitoring, object identification, and flood monitoring. It is also expected to support military surveillance requirements.

China is reported to have launched two Jilin-1 EO satellites today, June 5th, aboard a Long March 11 rocket. The launch was China’s first from a floating platform, as the rocket took off from specially modified ship stationed in the Yellow Sea. This launch follows a reported failed launch from the Long March 4C rocket at the end of May. The lost satellite was referred to as ‘remote sensing number 33’ and it was believed to be a part of a reconnaissance constellation.

The original Jilin-1 satellite was launched in 2015 and provides high-resolution optical land monitoring. The cameras have a 48 km swath and a spatial resolution of 3.2 m in multispectral mode and 0.8 m in panchromatic mode. This satellite had a predicted end-of-life of 2019, and it is not known if these are replacements our additions to the existing capabilities.

Another satellite which has reached end-of-life is TechDemoSat-1 which was built by UK company Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL). Launched in 2014 to demonstrate eight different innovative technologies, it has now reached the end of life and provided the final demonstration of its mission.

To de-orbit the satellite faster than normal, it has successfully deployed the innovative Icarus-1 drag sail as shown in the image at the top of the blog. Comprising of an aluminium frame and four sails, which together measure just under seven square metres, this sail aims to significantly increase the satellites’ orbital decay meaning it will come back to Earth quicker, in line with current best practice for Space Debris Mitigation.

The next EO launch, assuming the Chinese were successful, will be the trio of Canadian SAR satellites that make up the RADARSAT Constellation Mission.  The three C-Band SAR satellites will allow daily revisits of the whole of Canada’s land and maritime areas, and ninety percent coverage of the globes’ land masses each day and the Arctic will have up to four visits each day. In high-resolution mode, these satellites will have a spatial resolution of 1.3m, whilst in other modes, the resolution will be 25 m or 50 m. The main applications will be ice monitoring, oil pollution monitoring, ship detection and ecosystem monitoring. The current plan is an 11th June launch aboard the Falcon 9 rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base, in California, USA.

All of this shows that there is always something happening in EO, and you can’t afford to take your eye off the ball – even for a couple of weeks- or you might miss something!

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