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NovaSAR Sends Its First Pictures From Space

The first ever all-UK radar satellite NovaSAR has sent the first images which contain photographs of Egyptian pyramids and the Sydney Harbour. The combined work of Airbus in Portsmouth and Surrey Satellite Technology Limited of Guildford led to the development of the spacecraft which was launched into in September. The images are being assessed for utilization in fields ranging from maritime surveillance and forestry and flood mapping to crop analysis. The ultimate intention is to launch a constellation of NovaSAR-like sats which will allow repeat pictures of locations to be taken quickly, which is important for detecting changes in scenes which require rapid responses, like reacting to oil spills at seas.

Unlike Earth Observation spacecrafts which need cloud-free skies and daylight for taking photos, satellite radar can see surface of Earth at night and in all weather conditions. The image of the Sydney Harbour with the opera house and the famous bridge for example was taken at night. It is resolving objects across 6 meters or more. Luis Gomes of SSTL said that the photos of boats seem very interesting as maritime surveillance is one of the primary objectives of NovaSAR. Not just large vessels but also smaller pleasure crafts can be seen. The NovaSAR receiver can pick up AIS (Automatic Identification System) radio signals. Large ships are obliged to broadcast these positional transmissions according to international law. Vessels that fail to follow this are often involved in illegal fishing activity or smuggling, and detecting such ships will lead to authorities being informed.

The images Cairo and the Great Pyramids show that NovaSAR is capable of discerning various land uses. The photos include those of desert, rock, trees, cultivated fields and buildings. Airbus radar expert Martin Cohen said that the first image from orbit is very crucial as it reflects and credits the hard work of so many people in Portsmouth. The next step will be to support SSTL through the remaining commissioning phase and begin full operational use of mission. EO specialists in Australia and India are partnering to assess capabilities of NovaSAR. The UK Ministry of Defense wants to see if the spacecraft can offer armed forces of Britain.

Earlier works in space radar technology by UK engineers have been involved in broader missions like for the ESA (European Space Agency). NovaSAR as compared to that is an exclusively British initiative. An investment of £21m has been made by the UK government in this project which Sam Gyimah, Science Minister, says has produced incredible results. The ‘eye in the sky’ can take images 12-times wider than Strait of Dover. The data can help in cracking issues related to illegal shipping and damaging pollution and alert the necessary authorities for countering those problems.