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Remote Sensing Satellites

Remote sensing satellites, SATMAPs, are valuable assets for understanding and managing Earth's resources and the environment, and providing critical data for social and security decision-making and policy formulation, such as for the management of city and economic corridors, disaster and emergency, and ecosystem – farmland, forest, ocean, coastal, and fresh water.


Remote sensing satellites are spacecraft equipped with sensors and instruments designed to observe and collect data about the Earth's surface from space. Carefully designed orbits that line-scan the Earth allow taking precise photographs of landmasses that together create an image of the area of interest. That gives a look at conditions on the ground and, by employing high-resolution filter imaging analysis, a comprehensive understanding of the resources on the ground and below the surface.

Remote sensing satellites can be placed in various orbits, including polar, sun-synchronous, and geostationary orbits. Polar orbiting satellites pass over different parts of the Earth's surface on each orbit, providing global coverage over time. Sun-synchronous orbits maintain a constant angle between the satellite and the sun, ensuring consistent lighting conditions for imaging. Geostationary satellites remain fixed relative to a specific point on the Earth's surface, providing continuous monitoring of a particular region.

To operate, these satellites require radio frequency and remote sensing licenses; remote sensing generally means high-resolution, rugged cameras, but could also include a variety of sensors that capture data in different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, including visible, infrared, thermal, and microwave wavelengths. These sensors can capture information about features such as land cover, crops and vegetation, oceans, weather patterns, and atmospheric composition. Typically thousands of terabytes of data is going to be collected and relayed back to Earth during the satellite’s life time.

Development cost is mostly tied into the dedicated software and algorithms to extract meaningful information, and the equipment carried by the satellite – transponders (channels that provide bandwidth and power over designated radio frequencies), computers, and cameras; the certification documentation also requires time and money. Operations and maintenance cost includes the ground stations, antennas and cell receivers, and up to US$1.5M per year bandwidth plan – like the typical voice and data mobile phone plan.

NASA CSLI CubeSat 101
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