Microsatellite constellation to watch over disasters forges ahead

Microsatellite constellation to watch over disasters forges ahead

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In a remarkable example of international collaboration in space, seven organisations from Africa, Asia and Europe have formed a consortium and agreed to contribute microsatellites into the first dedicated Disaster Monitoring Constellation (DMC). The DMC will comprise seven Earth observation microsatellites launched into low Earth orbit to provide daily imaging revisit anywhere in the world.

The DMC Consortium comprises a partnership between organisations in Algeria, China, Nigeria, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. Each organisation is building an advanced yet low-cost Earth observation microsatellite to form the first ever constellation specifically designed and dedicated to monitoring natural and man-made disasters. The first DMC microsatellite is scheduled to be launched for Algeria in September 2002 and subsequent microsatellites into the same orbit in 2003 & 2004.

The objective of the Consortium is to derive the maximum mutual benefit from the constellation through collaboration and cooperation between the DMC Partners. The partners in the DMC Consortium agreed to exchange their DMC satellite resources and data to achieve a daily Earth observation imaging capability for disaster monitoring and other dynamic phenomena.

The DMC partner organisations are:

  • Centre National Techniques Spatiales (Algeria)
  • Ministry of Science & Technology (PR China)
  • National Space Research & Development Agency (Nigeria)
  • TUBITAK-ODTU (Turkey)
  • Mahanakorn University of Technology, Bangkok (Thailand)
  • National Centre for Science & Technology (Vietnam)
  • British National Space Centre (UK)
  • Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (UK)

The DMC will enable the monitoring of any rapidly-changing phenomena by providing daily revisit multispectral imaging worldwide at resolutions from 32-metres multispectral down to 4-metres panchromatic. Current Earth observation satellites offer only infrequent image revisits and the delivery of critical information may take months due to periodic cloud cover and tasking conflicts. Images of disaster-stricken areas are often made available too late to be of real use to relief co-ordination agencies on the ground. The processed images from the DMC will be distributed to relief teams by the Reuters AlterNet Foundation. The Reuters Foundation launched AlertNet in 1997 to help the work of relief professionals around the world.

Each year natural and man-made disasters around the world cause devastation, loss of life, widespread human suffering and huge economic losses. The DMC will provide a service that will greatly aid the response, management and mitigation of disasters whenever, and wherever, they occur The DMC is an international project proposed and led by SSTL at the Surrey Space Centre, which has developed highly capable microsatellites that provide high quality multispectral imaging at a small fraction of the cost of a conventional satellite, thus making the constellation and this humanitarian service both practicable and affordable.

Six of the seven microsatellites for the DMC are being constructed at SSTL in the UK. The first satellite of the constellation, AlSAT-1 for Algeria, has been manufactured and is currently undergoing tests in preparation for a planned launch in September 2002. Construction of BILSAT-1 (Turkey) is also underway at SSTL, along with the UK-DMC microsatellite funded through the BNSC.

NigeriaSat-1 will commence assembly in May. The satellites for Algeria, Turkey and Nigeria are being built under a Know-How Transfer and Training (KHTT) programme at Surrey. The seventh microsatellite (Thai-Paht2) is being built at the Mahanakorn University of Technology (MUT) in Bangkok, Thailand.

This follows MUT’s successful KHTT programme with Surrey and the launch of their first microsatellite (Thai-Paht-1) in 1998. The Chinese and Vietnamese satellites are in the final stages of contract negotiation with SSTL and both are planned to be built at Surrey.