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SSTL to work with UrtheCast on 16-satellite constellation

22 June 2015

Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) is to team with UrtheCast, a Canadian earth observation company, for the forthcoming Generation-3 constellation.

The Formosat 7 weather monitoring spacecraft (image: SSTL)

SSTL will design and build the satellite platforms as well as the high resolution optical imagers. According to SSTL's group managing director, Patrick Wood, the dual optical/radar constellation created by UrtheCast will be a game changer for the Earth Observation market.

"SSTL is ideally placed to design and build the UrtheCast satellites, having made a substantial investment in new automated production facilities geared to constellation manufacture," he says. "As strategic partners in this venture, we see this initiative as a perfect marriage that exploits SSTL’s satellite manufacturing capacity and UrtheCast’s downstream data services.”

Building on SSTL’s experience of designing constellations, which include RapidEye, the Disaster Monitoring Constellation and more recently DMC3 and Formosat 7, the ‘design for manufacture’ approach to Generation 3 will provide a common platform to accommodate both optical and radar payloads. The mission will be designed for multiple-launch, utilising SSTL’s expertise in working with low cost launch providers.

Of significance is the experience gained by SSTL through the design and build of NovaSAR which has established SSTL as the world leader in affordable Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) systems. SAR will be a key component of UrtheCast's constellation, and the platform is currently being built by SSTL under a UK government grant to provide a new benchmark in affordability and performance for responsive spaceborne radar.

The Constellation is expected to comprise a minimum of 16 satellites (8 optical and 8 SAR) flying in two orbital planes, with each plane consisting of four satellite pairs, equally-spaced around the orbit plane.  Each pair of satellites will consist of a dual-mode, high-resolution optical satellite (video and pushbroom) and a dual-band high-resolution SAR satellite (X-band and L-band) flying in tandem.

The Constellation will provide what UrtheCast anticipates to be unmatched space-imaging capabilities, including high collection capacity, optical and SAR data fusion, weather-independent high-resolution imaging using the SAR, target revisit, and imaging latency.

By flying the satellites in tightly-paired SAR and optical tandem formations, the Constellation is expected to offer a number of innovative capabilities, including onboard real-time processing, cross-cueing between the satellites, and real-time cloud imaging on the leading SAR satellites that enables cloud avoidance in the trailing optical satellites.

By employing two orbital planes, the Constellation will allow for maximum revisit rates in the mid-latitudes, while providing the Company with global coverage extending to the poles.

Earlier this month SSTL shipped six spacecraft for international customers and a further eleven satellites are currently under manufacture.

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