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Home / Science / ICEYE's space radar satellite spying on farms is a taste of the future – Quartz

ICEYE's space radar satellite spying on farms is a taste of the future – Quartz



The following images, created by a radar satellite built and operated by a private company, are a foretaste of a future in which anyone can acquire the ability to monitor Earth's changes from space.

ICEYE, a company in Finland, shared these exclusive radar images with Quartz to demonstrate the capabilities of a satellite launched in January into orbit 500 kilometers above the planet.

In the two animations you can see how agricultural fields outside Havana, Cuba, redesigned January and February 2018, changes in irrigation and crops:

  image of ICEYE-X1 from fields near Havana, Cuba, between January-February 2018.
Pictures of ICEYE-X1 from fields near Havana, Cuba, between January-February 2018. (ICEYE)

It is no coincidence that ICEYE took pictures of Cuba shared where the agricultural sector is opaque and under stress. "If you have a satellite, you want to show that you can take pictures of places you would not otherwise see," said Pekka Laurila, co-founder of the company.

  Image of ICEYE-X1 from fields near Havana, Cuba, between January-February 2018.
Images of ICEYE-X1 from fields near Havana, Cuba, between January-February 2018. (19659010) Technology that sees through clouds

The images are generated by a synthetic aperture radar that bounces off radio signals and detects their reflections. Computer models are used to create images of the shape of things underneath. Its main advantage over passive images is that it can look through clouds, a major obstacle to imaging on a planet with lots of water.

ICEYE shares the target of potential competitors like Planet, which maps the entire land mass of the Earth daily: they want to accelerate the commercial space industry and provide regular ground activity information to see what changes and how. Laurila wants to give his customers the opportunity to check in at a certain place every three hours.

That will have to wait until ICEYE has a full fleet of 20 satellites, maybe by 2020. There are likely to be two of them more demonstration satellites later this year. ICEYE is working with the European Space Agency and has received investment from the US Department of Defense, which sees cheap radar satellites as indispensable for an advanced warning of enemy missile launches.

The challenge of a new kind of instrument

The company expects to provide not only agricultural data, but information on the environment, climate change, transport and energy infrastructure, natural disasters and maritime activities.

The technological challenges are still scary; This satellite demonstration model can only take a few pictures per hour. Because the radar must send signals to Earth and detect their reflections, the satellite needs more energy and larger antennas than imaging satellites: its mass is 70 kilograms, compared to Planet's Dove satellites weighing less than 10 kilograms. But traditional radar satellites weigh many tons and are far more expensive than the millions of dollars the company needed to build their first spacecraft.

"We started with drag-based components that build this instrument and this satellite," says Laurila. "There was no such kind of instrument in the world and we needed one for our business case."


Continue reading: The Company Photographs Every Stain on Earth Every Day


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