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IEEE accolades ESA’s SMOS mission

France: Members of the driving force behind European Space Agency’s (ESA) Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission received Certificate of Recognition by the IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society for their leadership in developing the first synthetic aperture microwave radiometer in space and for the success of the mission.
The Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society awards certificates of this kind only every two to three years, and only when a significant achievement is recognised by the society’s Administrative Committee. This sought-after award was presented to Yann Kerr from the French Center for the Study of the Biosphere from Space, Jordi Font from the Spanish Institute of Marine Sciences and ESA’s Manuel Martin-Neira.

In orbit since 2009, the Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission is using novel techniques to provide global maps of the moisture held in the top layers of soil and salt in the surface waters of the oceans. This information is leading to a better understanding of the water cycle and, in particular, the exchange processes between Earth’s surface and the atmosphere.

From the outset, it was clear to Dr Kerr, the Lead Investigator for the SMOS mission, that only passive microwave operating at L-band would provide the measurements needed by the scientific community. Since a huge antenna would normally have been necessary to achieve the spatial resolution to observe soil moisture and ocean salinity in this band, the design of the instrumentation posed significant challenges. It took more than 10 years of research and development, but he overcame the problem by cleverly synthesising the antenna aperture through a multitude of small antennas. The result was the innovative Microwave Imaging Radiometer using Aperture Synthesis (MIRAS) instrument, which has been operating on the SMOS satellite since it was launched in 2009.

MIRAS captures snapshots of ‘brightness temperature’ that correspond to microwave radiation emitted from Earth’s surface, which can then be related to values of soil moisture and ocean salinity.

Source: ESA