spaceSpace and Physics

UK's New Radar Satellite Returns First Detailed Images Of World Landmarks From Space


Computer generated image of NovaSAR-1 in orbit. SSTL

The first images taken from a newly launched UK satellite radar show in stunning detail some of Earth’s most iconic landmarks.

Developed in collaboration by Survey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and Airbus, NovaSAR-1 was launched into its 580-kilometer (360 miles) Sun-synchronous orbit last September. It utilizes a technology called Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) that sets it apart from other satellites – NovaSAR-1 can see the Earth’s surface no matter what the weather is doing or what time of day it is. The team at SSTL says this holds great potential for future uses, including tracking illegal trade and smuggling, mapping flood and forestry conditions, and conducting crop analyses.


“This ‘eye in the sky’ can capture an image a dozen times wider than the Strait of Dover and the data it provides can help crack problems from illegal shipping to alerting us to damaging pollution that needs to be countered,” said UK Science and Education Minister Sam Gyimah in a statement

The first image shows Sydney Harbour complete with its famous bridge and Opera House. What’s more, it was taken at night.


The NovaSAR-1 satellite is equipped with a receiver that can pick up Automatic Identification System (AIS) radio signals, which are transmissions large ships are required to emit under international law that gives authorities their positions. Those that don’t adhere to the rules are often involved in smuggling or illegal fishing activity, reports the BBC. Such technologies, SSTL claims, can use Earth observation methods to catch those participating in illegal activities.

A second image shows the Great Pyramids in Cairo and the many different geological features of this area, including the direction of the River Nile’s flow and the urbanization and cultivation occurring along its banks. 


“We have worked closely with the SAR experts at Airbus in Portsmouth to develop NovaSAR-1 and the whole team is delighted with these first results – the outcome of space engineering expertise, ingenuity, and collaboration,” said Andrew Cawthorne, Director of Earth Observation at SSTL. “Over the coming weeks our spacecraft operators will continue to test the capabilities of the spacecraft as we task the satellite to image locations around the world, working towards the start of service delivery to our mission partners in the near future.”



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