Cubesat Constellations as a Platform for Earth Observation

Cal Poly and the Paradigm Shift

Since the dawn of the space age, we have grown up with watching TV and listening to radio reports of yet another mission to a distant world and the next rocket launch taking astronauts into space. Up until now, space has been the playground for government agencies but with dwindling budgets and more pressing urgent social matters to attend to, space is now open to commercial companies who have the ability and the means to drive innovation and technological advances. We have entered a new era in space exploration where citizens can become astronauts, space scientists, and engineers, enter “New Space”.

With the miniaturization of electronic components and the rise of the smartphone technology taking leaps and bounds, this drive-in innovative products entering the market has provided a catalyst for a civil space program. As we enter this new era of space exploration the cost of reaching space is no longer tens of billions of dollars but affordable to people like you and me.

In the late 1990s two American Universities developed a small satellite which they cutely called “CubeSats”. These nanosatellites were minuscule in size compared to their previous monolithic counterparts. Measuring in dimension in just 10cm x 10 cm x 10cm these tiny spacecraft started a revolution in space exploration.

A new standard was set for these small satellites where electronic components and experimental payloads were shrunk to fit into the dimensions of the CubeSats. At the forefront of the CubeSat development were California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) and Stanford University who’s aim in creating the standard for CubeSats was to open the field for University and High School students to participate in space exploration and its development. Soon after amateur satellite, radio and space enthusiasts became involved in driving the CubeSat standard forward to new sizes and levels of advancement.

New Space, New Markets

With the invention of the CubeSat standard comes the opening of new opportunities and new markets. In recent years the CubeSat platform has moved into commercial space observation and earth monitoring markets to provide data and services for businesses wishing to monitor their stock from space.

A number of new startup technology ventures have emerged who are developing fleets of satellites known as “Constellations” to act as eyes from the skies and provide a range of applications which can be used in a number of sectors from the oil and mining industry for monitoring quarrying and drilling to assisting in assisting the coordination of relief efforts in the event of a natural disaster.

New Markets for Space Applications

Space Technology touches our everyday lives from navigation with GPS tracking through satellites providing navigation signals to telecommunications and mobile phone services.

Earth Observation CubeSats will provide reliable datasets to supply us with up to date, timely information on our environment and fast changing world. New services planned for forthcoming Earth Observation missions will provide us with a finger on the pulse to changes in our environment, monitoring the temperature in our climate, and near live video data allowing us to track the passage of ships on trade routes.

With the rapid pace of advances in technology who knows what the next round of innovation will bring?

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