TopSat, the micro-satellite designed and built by a QinetiQ-led
consortium of British firms, have been received at QinetiQ’s West
Freugh ground station.
The low cost Earth observation satellite is six weeks into its mission
following a successful launch from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Northern
Russia on 27 October 2005.
TopSat is a major step forward in the
affordability of space missions, providing 2.8 metre resolution images
at a much reduced cost compared to larger satellites. Typically,
current generation imaging satellites with comparable performance cost
over five times more than TopSat.
opSat also has the best resolution per
mass of any imaging satellite currently available so has a wide range
of applications. These include mineral and petroleum exploration,
forestry, flood monitoring and combating maritime oil pollution.
The images produced by TopSat are
delivered in near-real time, enhancing its ability to support disaster
relief operations in the event of landslides, earthquakes and other
emergencies. Images can also be delivered to customers in situ via
QinetiQ’s fully mobile data ground station (RAPIDS).
TopSat was designed and built by a consortium of British companies led
by QinetiQ, whose role includes systems design and technical authority,
provision of the major payload electronics units, operations management
and ground segment.
Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL)
developed and manufactured the satellite platform and was responsible
for the integration of the payload testing, arranging the launch at
Cosmos, and commissioning the satellite platform in orbit. Rutherford
Appleton Laboratory (RAL) designed and manufactured the camera and
Infoterra is marketing TopSat data products.
Speaking on behalf of the consortium,
Andrew Rogoyski, managing director of QinetiQ’s space division said:
“With improved performance and falling costs we are entering a very
exciting era for small satellites. We genuinely believe that low cost
ownership of space platforms is becoming a reality.”
The programme has been jointly funded by
the British National Space Centre (BNSC) and the UK Ministry of Defence
at a mission cost below ¬£14m.
Lord Sainsbury, minister with
responsibility for the BNSC and UK space policy at the Department of
Trade and Industry said: “The first images received from TopSat mark
the latest chapter in a genuine British success story. They represent
the culmination of five years’ work and are an example of what can be
achieved when four British companies work together.
“The project is also a fine example of the
benefit of the BNSC partnership in fostering collaboration between
Government departments, to stimulate industrial capability and
Professor Roy Anderson, chief scientific
adviser to the Ministry of Defence said: “The development of TopSat is
at the cutting edge of scientific innovation and reflects the UK’s
leading research capability in this highly competitive field. I am
delighted that the MOD and the BNSC have worked together successfully
to fund a project that will bring benefit to both civil and military
users all over the world.”
The satellite image was acquired at 10.03am
on Wednesday 7 December 2005. The morning traffic is clearly visible on
the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge at the Dartford Crossing, UK. The image
shows Thurrock and the Lakeside shopping centre in Essex to the north,
and Greenhithe and the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent to the south.
Ships are visible underway from the Thames estuary and alongside at the
Tilbury docks to the east. TopSat imagery at nadir has a nominal 2.8m
resolution in black and white and 5.7m in colour. These images are not
full quality as they are JPEG format to allow the wide distribution. A
full range of images are available from the QinetiQ press office.
The first of its kind in the UK, TopSat is
a low cost small satellite which will provide local users in situ on
the ground with high-resolution imagery. It consists of an advanced
optical camera, which is able to collect 17 x 17 km images of the earth
with a panchromatic (black and white) resolution of 2.86 metres and a
multispectral (colour) resolution of 5 metres.
This optical camera is integrated with an
agile micro-satellite platform to permit pitch compensation manoeuvres,
allowing imaging of low illumination scenes.
TopSat can deliver imagery direct to users
via a mobile ground station, from a low Earth orbit in near real-time.
Data can also be downloaded to other mobile or fixed ground stations
using the CCSDS communications standard within hours, increasing the
versatility of the system.
In the future, a constellation of three or
four TopSat satellites could image almost any point on the Earth at
least once a day, subject to cloud conditions, opening up the potential
for quick response imagery which is extremely cost effective to
TopSat is one of three satellite projects
funded under the MOSAIC programme (the BNSC Small Satellite Programme).
The programme is intended to fully exploit the UK’s world leading
capability in small satellites and to stimulate the development of key
small satellite technologies and payloads.