November 30, 2011
New Radar Satellite Sees Through Thick Clouds
The U.K. government said it plans to start an innovative project to fly radar satellites around the Earth to see the planet's surface through all weather, and regardless of the time of day.
The series of satellites could eventually be launched to help enable any place on Earth to be imaged inside 24 hours.
Radar is a useful tool in Earth observation because it has the ability to track objects and events on the ground even when there are thick clouds between Earth's surface and the satellite.
The project is backed by the government and has been developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), which specializes in building small, low-cost spacecraft.
The new S-band radar satellite is known as NovaSar-S and weighs in at about 881 pounds.
Engineers found a way to make it smaller than most radar platforms in operation today, with a price tag that would also be a fraction of that charged for bigger radar satellites.
SSTL said it can build, launch and insure a NovaSar-S for a customer for about $70 million. The U.K.'s NovaSar-S will be ready for launch in two to three years.
SSTL plans to launch further spacecraft to create a constellation in the sky, assuming the first version meets its design performance and begins to earn money.
The satellite will produce "medium-resolution images," which are images that can show details of objects on the ground that are larger than 20 feet across.
It will have a number of viewing modes that could enable it to perform several roles, including flood monitoring and land cover management.
The radar will allow the satellite to see through thick cloud cover over rain forests to help monitor deforestation.
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