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The availability of high-resolution data collected by miniaturized satellites heralds a turning point in Earth and environmental sensing from space.
The advent of small, specialized satellites called CubeSats are transforming our ability to monitor the Earth's surface and the impact of human activity on the planet. Scientists at KAUST are pioneering research techniques based on CubeSat data and are excited about the potential of these satellites, particularly for the fields of hydrology and precision agriculture.
Traditional - Satellite - Data - Research - Government
Traditional satellite data used for research, collected predominantly by government space agencies, presents certain limitations. Generally, either the data provides high spatial resolutions occasionally—detailed images taken every two weeks—or the data provides low spatial resolution frequently. In the latter scenario, significant details can be missed. CubeSats are changing this paradigm, collecting meter-scale spatial detail over Earth's terrestrial surfaces every day.
"I certainly didn't expect these constraints to be lifted any time soon," says hydrologist and remote-sensing specialist, Matthew McCabe, of KAUST. "Normally, satellite design takes years—researching and developing sensors, negotiating with a government space agency and funding bodies—before possibly seeing your mission chosen for launch. Then, there's the chance that something could go wrong upon launch or deployment or that you simply don't get the data you need."
Advances - CubeSat - Technology - Satellites - Components
Recent advances in CubeSat technology could change this. These shoebox-sized satellites are comparatively cheap to make and launch: they are built from off-the-shelf components and sensors and sent into orbit either as companion payload or on small, reusable rockets. Once launched, CubeSats orbit the Earth at heights of 350 to 500 kilometers for a period of a few weeks to more than a year, relaying data to Earth (before ultimately burning upon re-entry into the atmosphere).
The great advantage of their small size and cost means that 'constellations' of CubeSats can be launched, setting up a conveyor belt of satellites capturing multiple...
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