Marco Martorella, chair in radio frequency and space sensing in the Department of Electronic, Electrical and Systems Engineering at the University of Birmingham, has begun working on the Radar Cluster for Earth Remote Sensing (RaCERS) project.
The feasibility study, which will involve developing bespoke equipment that pushes the boundaries of radar equipment and constellation flying, is now underway. The second stage of the project will be funded by the European Space Agency. Delivery is expected by 2029.
The RaCERS project is expected to deliver ‘swarms’ of cooperating microsatellites (smallsats) that fly in tight formation and provide a highly accurate profile of Earth’s surface, and enhanced image resolution revealing, for instance, deforestation or forest thickening, the height of rivers or waterways, and areas of urban growth. This is intended to improve mapmaking, environmental monitoring and natural hazard forecasting.
Martorella is working on the project with partners GeoOptics Switzerland; Tyvak International; the National Inter-University Center for Telecommunications, Pisa; and the Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich.
Flying in constellation will enable the RaCERS smallsats to simultaneously use altimetry, which measures height using the upward reflection of the radar beam; scatterometry, which passively senses the surface from many angles at once, providing more, and more precise, information; and synthetic aperture radar (SAR), which enables active and high-resolution imaging of Earth’s surface.
According to Martorella, radar has strong benefits over visual light wavelengths for these types of measurements. It can sense during day or night and is not interrupted by cloud cover, which means it can deliver a continuous feed of highly accurate data about the surface of oceans, ice and land.
Martorella said, “Spaceborne radar is central to Earth environmental monitoring and forecasting, and the constellations of RaCERS satellites, flying in a tightly orchestrated formation, will deliver more accurate measurements than conventional, single satellites, enabling more accurate determination of severe weather, soil moisture, surface winds, ocean circulation and much more.”
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