Stories: ICEYE satellites super-sharp radar images featured in BBC
European Innovation Council pilot's funded Finnish company ICEYE has been featured in BBC for an impressive demonstration of its novel technology's capabilities. The company is the first in the world to achieve better than 1 meter resolution imagery from under-100kg (220 pounds) SAR satellites. This level of performance is expected from traditional spacecraft that weigh a tonne or more and cost in excess of one hundred million euros, but Iceye's breakthrough satellites are the size of a suitcase and cost only a couple of million to build.
"We've always pushed back on what's been considered impossible," said to BBC News Rafal Modrzewski, co-founder and CEO. "They told us we couldn't make a small radar satellite. When we did it, they told us 'oh, but it's only 10m resolution'. Then we did 3m resolution, and they said 'ok, but that will be your limit'. And here we are again, showing them that we can do what was previously the exclusive domain of the exquisite large satellites,".
ICEYE’s newly developed Spotlight imaging mode enables under 1-meter radar imaging from the company’s satellites. With Spotlight imaging, the satellite focuses its energy on a smaller area for a longer time, resulting in more data received from the same location. This in turn can be processed into more detailed imagery.
Very high-resolution radar satellite images are uniquely helpful for both distinguishing small objects, and for accurately classifying larger objects such as vessels. These added capabilities of ICEYE’s SAR satellites are especially valuable in resolving challenges in sectors such as emergency response, finance, civil government, and maritime security.
Radar images can be difficult to interpret for the casual observer, but they're a powerful tool with which to monitor and map the Earth. A radar's great advantage is that it will always sense the ground, even in darkness or in cloudy conditions, which means governments and businesses can now look at their locations of interest 24/7.
Having very detailed, sharp images is obviously important for identification purposes, but what will set the coming constellations apart will be the timeliness of their data. The ICEYE satellite constellation provides you new images of the same location every hour, tracking all changes that happen even within individual days is possible using this technology. And today, the company has four satellites in orbit with plans for 14 more over the next two years. When ICEYE has 18 spacecraft in orbit, it will be able to re-image the same spot on the Earth's surface every three to four hours. Every eight hours, one of the satellites will get a chance to view the target with exactly the same geometry, or look angle.
Radar data has all kinds of applications, from rapid mapping in the aftermath of an earthquake to providing financial intelligence on economic activities - such as the comings and goings at big ports.
The company received a Phase 2 grant from the EIC SME Instrument program in 2015 of 2.434.005 €. In 2018, they launched its history-making first small SAR satellite launch in January. Since then the company has continued to launch more satellites, latest in July 2019 with two new units. With new satellites being launched still during 2019, ICEYE continues to develop and optimize its imaging capabilities further for customers in both commercial and government segments.
Last month, ICEYE has announced its SAR satellite constellation is now considered a Third Party Mission under evaluation for the European Space Agency (ESA). As a result, a continued analysis of ICEYE’s SAR data from its satellites will be performed under the framework of the Earthnet Data Assessment Pilot (EDAP). In the framework of the Earthnet programme, ESA and its Member States continue to stimulate global cooperation between space actors around activities aiming to acquire and share resources and knowledge on our planet for the benefit of all citizens.
View Iceye's information on the EIC SME Instrument data hub.