RADARSAT ground station in the UK officially in business
The UK's Defence Evaluation Research Agency (DERA) has become the first organisation outside Canada to be certified to provide imagery from the Canadian RADARSAT satellite through its ground station at West Freugh in Scotland. West Freugh is the first ground station to be awarded 'Blue Ribbon' certification for the reception and processing of RADARSAT data.The official announcement was made by RADARSAT International (RSI) and the Canadian Space Agency on 18 September following rigorous on-site verification of the ordering, scheduling and reception process, as well as product generation and visual image quality.
"In awarding this certification, we are pleased that West Freugh is now able to carry out commercial RADARSAT data operations and generate high quality image products which will satisfy a range of customer requirements," said Robert E. Tack, President of RADARSAT International.
DERA also holds the licence for distribution of RADARSAT data in the United Kingdom, Ireland and Denmark. In order to assist customers the agency has formed 'RadarSolutions', a team of leading UK Earth observation companies, to distribute products and value added services. Potential buyers can obtain the data from any of the partners, each of whom specialises in different applications. The consortium involves the following:
The West Freugh site was originally established to receive and distribute data from the European Space Agency's ERS series of radar satellites. In order to handle RADARSAT data, DERA has upgraded the ground station with the collaboration of Matra Marconi Space UK Ltd for design and implementation of the SAR processor and data systems, and EOS Ltd for the data management software.
The station will receive data downloaded by RADARSAT as it passes above a huge 'footprint' area which covers Greenland and the eastern Atlantic Ocean, Europe as far east as Moscow and most of the Mediterranean region including a large part of North Africa. RADARSAT can view a strip or swath of ground 500 km wide to produce 25 different types of image. Most of these formats are now available from West Freugh and the others will follow within a few months. They differ in spatial resolution and ground coverage.The highest (10 metre) spatial resolution of RADARSAT is equivalent to the best resolution from the French Spot satellites which operate at visible wavelengths. The satellite's five fine resolution beams can detect objects such as small boats and individual streets. At the other extreme, RADARSAT's ScanSAR wide beam can image an area 500 km square at 100 metre resolution. Repeat coverage at this scale can be applied to such operations as routing ships through polar ice or monitoring coastal changes.
RSI has initially made some provision for scientific use of the data with 700 approved scientific research projects around the world which receive a limited amount of data free of charge. However, subsequent requests for scientific data are now being met on a purely commercial basis. Images typically cost between $3000 and $4500 depending on the radar beam used and the product required.
RADARSAT was launched by Delta 2 rocket from Vandenberg launch centre in California on 4 November 1995. It is Canada's first Earth observation satellite and the world's first commercially operated radar satellite. It has been developed by the Canadian Space Agency in partnership with the private sector and has taken 15 years to become a reality. The programme has cost $650 million.
The satellite follows a near-polar orbit at an altitude of 798 km. It always looks to the right, though the angle at which the radar beam is aimed at the ground can be varied between about 20 degrees (steep angle) and 60 degrees (shallow angle).
The satellite returns to the same location every 24 days. However, more frequent views of a particular location can be obtained by varying the angle of view or by using the satellite when it is flying from south to north as well as when it flies north to south. Near the poles, the repeat coverage is much more frequent than at the equator. In the wide beam mode, a location at high latitudes can be viewed as frequently as once a day . Near the equator this can be done as often as once every five days.
Radar satellites operate by sending a beam of microwave energy to the Earth's surface and picking up the reflection. One major advantage of the radar satellite is that it can 'see' the ground even when it is dark or covered in cloud. This is not possible with satellites such as Landsat or Spot which detect visible light reflected from the Earth.
DERA is a division of the UK Ministry of Defence. It conducts research on the military and civil applications of space and is a world leader in the development and exploitation of space technology.