Future of Remote Sensing Satellites: Nano, Micro and Mini Satellites

Posted by GIS talk On Tuesday, June 24, 2008
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The smooth and flawless launch of eight nano satellites developed by universities from across the world along with two Indian spacecraft in one go by the April 28 path-breaking flight of the four stage Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV), while helping put ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) on par with front-ranking international space agencies, has brought into sharp focus the growing popularity of nano, micro and mini satellites.

These eight nano satellites are being used for experimental communication, forest fire detection and earth observation applications. Apparently, these eight nano satellites, whose launch has fetched Antrix Corp Ltd, the Bangalore based commercial arm of ISRO, Rs 24-million, were essentially designed to prove the feasibility of emerging nano technologies in building satellites as well as for the development of technologies for satellite applications.

For quite some time now, space researchers have been stressing the point that micro systems technology and micro electronics for space applications can draw great advantages from pre qualification in a real space environment. Reducing weight, size and energy characteristics of micro, mini and nano satellites is a major challenge before space professionals. The Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of USA have a strong R&D programme for designing and building small, micro and nano satellites.

Similarly the 83-kg IMS-1, an Indian mini satellite payload for earth observation applications, launched by the April 28 PSLV mission, features many innovative technology and miniaturised sub systems. IMS-1 carries two remote sensing payloads: a multi-spectral camera and a hyper spectral camera capable of operating in the visible and near infrared regions of the electro magnetic spectrum.

The flexible satellite platform built for IMS-1 will serve as a forerunner of space missions for end uses like remote sensing, communications and space science research. Sometime ago, ISRO Chairman G Madhavan Nair had stated that “we are now trying to look at a small platform which can take up scientific experiments or may be used for cluster formation and things like that.” ISRO has called for proposals from the Indian scientific community for space science research with the help of small satellite payloads.

The PSLV flight, slated to take place over the next one year, will orbit X-sat, a micro satellite designed and developed by Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Cubesat, a nano satellite cluster from Netherlands as piggy back payloads. And sometime before the end of this decade, a PSLV mission will launch 35-kg Anusat, designed and developed by Chennai-based Anna University with the support of ISRO. This is an imitative of ISRO to bring university-based academicians and experts of ISRO together to implement a project in the University environment. This micro satellite will have body mounted solar panels and feature a digital store and forward payload for amateur communications. In addition, it features turbo coolers and MEMS (micro electro mechanical system) hardware. The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) at Mumbai and Kanpur are also planning micro satellites for launch by ISRO.

Another important micro satellite project being spearheaded by ISRO is Youthsat which will carry payloads of scientific interest with the participation of youth from universities. According to ISRO, youth from universities will participate from testing of the payloads in laboratories up to utilisation of the data from payloads. The micro satellite bus is planned and designed to carry different kinds of payloads like earth imaging, atmospheric applications, weather monitoring, stellar observation and scientific experiments. Youthsat will be launched as a piggy back payload by one of the PSLV flights during 2008-09.

In fact, it is the prohibitive cost of building large satellites and putting them into orbit, that has proved to be a "push factor" for the development of micro, mini and nano satellites. Micro satellites can also be used for the monitoring of disasters, natural resources and landscape mapping.

Surrey Satellite Technology, functioning under the Surrey University, is a pioneer in micro satellite technology. A number of countries have built small satellites inspired by the SSTL satellite models. Sweden, on its part, has developed and launched micro satellites for communications, scientific research and remote sensing applications.

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