What Does 2019 Hold For Earth Observation Satellites?

Satellites orbiting the Earth

Artist’s rendition of satellites orbiting the Earth – rottenman/123RF Stock Photo

2018 ended with the launch of over twenty Earth Observation (EO) satellites on the 27th December, onboard the Russian Soyuz rocket from the Vostochny Cosmodrome. Amongst its payload were:

  • Kanopus-V 5 and 6 – two high resolution optical land observation satellites for Russian aimed at disaster response, mapping and forest fire detection.
  • Twelve nanosatellites for Planet known as Flock 3k, to join the existing constellation.
  • Eight nanosatellites for Spire Global’s fleet collecting atmospheric data and tracking movements of ships and aircraft.
  • GRUS-1, which was the first Earth-imaging satellite for Japanese start-up Axelspace, with a spatial resolution of 2.5 m. They aim to emulate Planet by imaging the entire globe every day.

2019 will have a busy month in February, with several EO launches including:

  • Canadian RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM), a set of three SAR EO satellites with a 3 m spatial resolution.
  • The high resolution EgyptSat-A satellite.
  • The PRISMA (PRecursore IperSpettrale della Missione Applicativa, Hyperspectral PRecursor of the Application Mission) satellite for the Italian Space Agency which has an innovative electro-optical instrument, combining a hyperspectral sensor with a medium-resolution panchromatic camera.
  • Cartosat-3, a very high resolution panchromatic, multispectral and hyperspectral Indian EO mission that has a 0.25 m resolution in panchromatic mode, 1 m in multispectral mode and 2 m in hyperspectral mode.
  • NEMO-AM (Nanosatellite for Earth Monitoring and Observation – Aerosol Monitoring) which aims to detect aerosol content in the atmosphere, with a nominal ground resolution of 200 m.

Other key launches expected this year include:

  • RISAT 1 (Radar Imaging Satellite 1) is ISRO’s C-band SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) imager in March.
  • Planet’s next Dove Flock is due for launch in March.
  • The next microsatellite in BlackSky’s Global constellation is due for a March launch. These have a 1 m resolution, and follow other launches in the constellation in late 2018.
  • Cartosat-3A follows its partner in June.
  • September should see GISAT 1 (GEO Imaging Satellite) launch. This is an Indian geostationary multi-spectral satellite aiming to provide near real-time images and it’s hoped it will image the entire country every 30 minutes at a 40 m spatial resolution.

All these satellites will add to the current fleet of EO capabilities in space. The Union of Concerned Scientists issued their latest update in the active satellite database which lists 710 satellites with a main purpose of EO as of the 30th November 2018. This is a 4% increase from the previous release in April, and a more detailed analysis shows the specific purpose of these are:

  • Optical Imaging: 358 satellites.
  • Radar imaging: 52 satellites.
  • Infrared imaging: 8 satellites.
  • Hyperspectral/Multispectral imaging: 13 satellites.
  • Meteorology: 94 satellites.
  • Earth Science: 69 satellites.
  • Electronic intelligence: 65 satellites.
  • Video: 3 satellites.
  • Other purposes: 11 satellites.
  • 37 satellites simply list EO as their purpose.

The EO satellite community continues to expand, which is why the forecasts for the industry growth continue. It’s not been all good news as yesterday  DigitalGlobe, part of Maxar Technologies, announced that the WorldView-4 satellite had developed a problem that is unlikely to be fixed. This is a loss, particularly given the satellite was launched less than three years ago, and is a sobering reminder of how difficult space is to work in.

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