Latest Earth Observation Satellite Launches

Artist's rendition of a satellite - paulfleet/123RF Stock Photo

Artist’s rendition of a satellite – paulfleet/123RF Stock Photo

Earth observation (EO) satellites were amongst the payload on board the H-IIA rocket which was launched by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) at 1.08pm on Monday 29th October from the Tanegashima Space Center in Kagoshima, Japan.

The largest satellite on the rocket was Ibuki-2, also known as the Second Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite (GOSAT-2), which was put into a sun-synchronous orbit at an altitude of just over 600 km. It is the successor to the original Ibuki (GOSAT) satellite, which was launched in 2009, and will continue the mission to measure carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gas concentrations at 56 000 different locations in the atmosphere.

The satellite has two instruments, which are around ten times more accurate than its predecessor:

  • Thermal And Near Infrared Sensor for carbon Observation – Fourier Transform Spectrometer (TANSO-FTS-2): a five band interferometer – three near/shortwave-infrared and two thermal bands – with a spatial resolution of 10.5 km and swath width of 790 km, measuring the globe every three days. Built by Harris Corporation, it has an Intelligent Pointing system to detect clouds in its line of sight, allowing it to acquire data in non-cloudy areas.
  • Thermal And Near Infrared Sensor for carbon Observation – Cloud and Aerosol Imager (TANSO-CAI-2): A twin seven channel radiometer operating on a pushbroom approach with a 1 000 km swath and spatial resolutions of 0.5 km for the visible and near infrared bands and 1.5 km for the thermal infrared.

Launched alongside Ibuki-2 was KhalifaSat, also known as Dubai-3. This 330 kg satellite was the first to have been entirely built in the United Arab Emirates. Its instrument is the KhalifaSat Camera System (KHCS) with a 75 cm spatial resolution in panchromatic mode, and just under 3 m in multispectral mode – comprising of red, green, blue and near infrared bands.

The imagery will be used for urban planning, environmental studies, land contamination, and support for disaster management. The data will be made available to all of the UAE’s Government bodies and universities, with commercial use being decided after. An interesting statement from Amer Al Sayegh, KhalifaSat Project Manager, is that the first official image ‘will be a surprise for everyone … a unique place.’ So thinking hats on everyone, where could this be? (Update on 4th November: The first official image was the Palm Jumeirah artificial archipelago in Dubai, which is perhaps not quite the surprise promised!)

The third EO satellite on the launch was Diwata-2, the Phillippines’ second non-commercial microsatellite. It is a joint development between the University of the Philippines Diliman, the DOST-Advanced Science and Technology Institute, Hokkaido University, and Tohoku University. It carries five of optical instruments:

  • High Precision Telescope (SMI)
  • Spaceborne Multispectral Imager (SMI) with Liquid Crystal Tunable Filter (LCTF)
  • Wide Field Camera (WFC)
  • Middle Field Camera (MFC)
  • Enhanced Resolution Camera (ERC)

These will be used to acquire images for environmental protection. It also carries an Amateur Radio Unit (ARU) for emergency communication!

Alongside these three, there were four other cubesats onboard the rocket:

  • Ten-Koh: Satellite from the Kyushu Institute of Technology to observe the low Earth orbit environment to provide data for future missions.
  • PROITERES 2: Project from the Osaka Institute of Technology is a satellite with an electric rocket propulsion engine, and a high resolution camera to image the Kansai District on the Japanese island of Honshu.
  • AUTCube 2: From Aichi University of Technology and amongst its objectives is to gather some virtual reality images of space using fish-eye lenses.
  • STARS-AO: Shizuoka University’s CubeSat for astronomical observations

Whilst all of these EO satellites were launched successfully, earlier in the week there was disappointment as the Chinese satellite Weila-1 failed to reach its orbit. It was on board the Zhuque-1 rocket, and it was reported that the satellite included instruments for remote sensing and space science work which were to be used for a science outreach TV series.

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