SmallSat

SmallSat

SmallSat

Recent news in the Geospatial Intelligence sector has been dominated by talk of ‘SmallSats.’ So, what are SmallSats and how do they differ from the larger imaging satellites that have been providing earth imagery for over 15 years?

The term SmallSat means literally that… a small satellite. These satellites range from the size of a postage stamp (FemtoSats or ChipSats) that weigh as little as 0.001 kg, to the size of a standard kitchen oven (MiniSats) which have a starting weight of at least 100 kg. By comparison, DigitalGlobe’s recently launched WorldView-3 has dimensions of 18.7’x8’x23’ and weighs 2,800kg – clearly much bigger and much more expensive to build, launch, and operate.

One SmallSat company proposes to have the ability to launch, insure and operate 3 MiniSats for 7 years at a cost of around $160 million. Actual build prices for these ‘birds’ can be as low as $1-3 million for each of these satellites. A traditional imaging satellite was recently built and launched at a price of $307 million. With the cheaper all around price, the companies that are building SmallSats have substantially less risk when it comes to problems during a launch, operation, or even the possibility of these sensors running into other space debris, which could render them completely inoperable.

Currently, there are 71 SmallSats (produced and launched by North American companies) already in orbit, and it is projected that 193 will be launched and operational by the end of 2020. Once all of these sensors are in orbit each particular company hopes to have the ability for daily revisit time, some even as quickly as hours or minutes. With the larger imaging sensors, the revisit times tend to be a little be longer (usually anywhere between 1 day to 3 ½ days), but they also have much higher image resolutions.

Resolutions of SmallSats vary – from 0.5 meter to 10 meters – depending on the company and the type of imagery capturing sensors. For larger imaging sensors, resolution can vary from as low as 0.31 meters to up to 30 meters. These resolutions seem to be relatively close; however, most of the imagery from the SmallSat companies is not yet commercially available.

Bottom line? SmallSats are clearly here to stay and will become a significant source of earth imagery in the not too distant future. Initially at least, we would expect that the majority of the SmallSat imagery will be directed toward military and intelligence applications.

Rest assured that the imagery professionals at eMap will constantly monitor the availability and applications of SmallSat imagery and we will keep you informed as this technology becomes commercially viable.

 

Take a look at the below two tables to compare the stats for SmallSats and those for the sensors that eMap works with.

 

SmallSat Sensors

*N/A= Information is not available at this time

Abbreviation Key -

MS= Multispectral                                      Pan= Panchromatic

SS= Sun-Synchronous Orbit                     SAR= Synthetic Aperture Radar

eMap Available Sensors

*CE90%= Positional Accuracy

Abbreviation Key -

MS= Multispectral                                      Pan= Panchromatic

SWIR= Short Wave Infrared                      CAVIS= Cloud, Aerosol, (Water) Vapor, Ice, & Snow