The Indian Space Research Organization, or ISRO, on Sunday (September 16) successfully launched two British satellites, the NovaSAR-1 and the SSTL S1-4, atop its Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) from its launch center in Sriharikota – a barrier island off the coast of the Bay of Bengal in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.
— ISRO (@isro) September 16, 2018
Developed and manufactured by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, or SSTL, in Guilford, Surrey, UK, the NovaSAR-1 is a 445-kilogram Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite capable of taking images day and night, even through dense cloud cover.
The NovaSAR-1 has a number of useful applications, such as monitoring suspicious maritime activities like illegal fishing, smuggling, piracy, as well as detecting oil spills and locating ships in distress, and more.
“We are very interested in this maritime mode, which is a 400km-plus swath mode,” BBC quoted SSTL’s chief technology officer Luis Gomes as saying.
“It is important to be able to monitor large areas of the ocean – something we don’t do at the moment,” Gomes told BBC News.
“We all saw with the Malaysian airline crash in the Indian Ocean the difficulty there was in monitoring that vast area. We can do that kind of thing with radar and NovaSAR is good for that,” he added.
— The Tribune (@thetribunechd) September 16, 2018
— Nigel Fenwick (@NigelFenwick) September 17, 2018
The SSTL S1-4, on the other hand, is a high-resolution Earth Observation satellite weighing 444 kilograms and capable of discerning objects as small as 87 cm across.
The satellite has a range of practical applications and could prove its worth in disaster management, flood monitoring, land classification, natural resource management, urban planning, and agricultural monitoring, says the SSTL website.
“The very high-resolution imager on board the spacecraft has been designed and manufactured by SSTL and will acquire sub one metre resolution images in panchromatic mode and sub four metre resolution images in multispectral mode, with a swath width of about 24km.,” says SSTL.
As far as ISRO is concerned, it was a “fully commercial launch,” as described by Dr S Somnath, Director of the Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre in Thiruvananthapuram, India, earning the Indian space agency in excess of 2 billion Indian Rupees ($27.5 million) in the process.
“India will earn money by this launch,” he said.
While the Sunday launch was the 44th mission for the PSLV, it was its fifth fully commercial mission in which the whole launch vehicle was hired by the UK company for the sole purpose of launching the two satellites.
“This is the fifth fully commercial launch of PSLV where the whole rocket has been hired by a foreign company,” said Dr Somnath, adding that foreign companies preferred the PSLV because it is “highly reliable” and also because there isn’t too much of a waiting period when it comes to ISRO launches.
“PSLV has a very special slot hence foreign companies prefer it because it is highly reliable and India’s offers timely launches without much of a waiting period,” he said.
Lauding ISRO for the feat, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that it was a demonstration of “India’s prowess in the competitive space business.”
Congratulations to our space scientists! ISRO successfully launched PSLV C42, putting two UK satellites in orbit, demonstrating India's prowess in the competitive space business. @isro
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 16, 2018
The launch was the result of a commercial arrangement between SSTL and Antrix Corp Ltd, the commercial arm of ISRO that promotes the Indian space agency’s products, services, and technologies.
Eighteen minutes after the 230-ton PSLV blasted off into the night sky, both satellites were released into sun-synchronous orbits (SSO).
Also known as a heliosynchronous orbit, SSO is a “geocentric orbit that combines altitude and inclination in such a way that the satellite passes over any given point of the planet’s surface at the same local solar time,” as explained by Wikipedia.
“The PSLV rocket preciously placed two of our customer satellites in 583 km orbit. The success will give added energy for industry to make PSLV,” ISRO Chairman K. Sivan said after the launch.
While the NovaSAR is a pretty capable satellite, its 3m by 1m dimensions make it seem somewhat outdated, which it is, in that it was initiated by SSTL back in 2008 but the program got delayed for various reasons.
Meanwhile, other companies worked on developing more compact versions of the satellite, with Finnish start-up ICEYE even managing to successfully launch a platform as small as a suitcase, earlier this year.
Called ICEYE-X1, the 100-kilogram Finnish microsatellite was also launched into orbit atop ISRO’s PSLV rocket.
If San Francisco-based American company Capella Space’s claim is anything to go by, we should soon see the launch of a shoebox-sized radar satellite.
However, Martin Cohen – a radar expert at Airbus Defence and Space, is not too worried about it.
“NovaSAR is still a step change, certainly for Airbus in terms of what you can do for a particular amount of money,” he said.
“But while we’ve been waiting for a launch, we haven’t stood still. We’ve done lots of work on the next generation,” he said.
He added: “NovaSAR is just the first in a family of instruments that will offer different capabilities, such as finer resolutions and other parameters; and we will be putting those capabilities on smaller spacecraft than NovaSAR.”