Earth observation is one of the major sectors in the space industry. Modern earth observation efforts began in the late 1950s, and the emergence of advanced space technologies has shifted the industry for the better. At the heart of modern earth observation are nanosatellites and CubeSat cameras. These cameras are designed to fit into the miniature sizes of the CubeSat and are equipped with high-end imaging capabilities.
Evolution of Space Exploration and Earth Observation
Not long ago, the only satellites orbiting the earth were big, weighing up to six tons. Today, things have changed. We now have satellites on the low earth orbit weighing 2 pounds.
These miniature satellites or a CubeSat have revolutionized the space exploration sector.
Instead of spending years and millions of dollars designing school-bus-sized satellites, shoebox-sized satellites are becoming the new standard.
This isn’t to say that CubeSats are completely phasing out their more prominent counterparts; instead, they complement one another. For long-term and demanding missions, larger satellites are used.
On the other hand, a CubeSat is chosen for its flexibility and affordability, especially for earth observation, astronomical imaging, and commercial communications.
Some of the factors that have expedited the adoption of CubeSat satellite technology include the need for cheaper satellites and rapid innovation in the electronics world. Here are the other factors boosting the rise of CubeSat satellites in the space industry.
- Availability of low-cost, off-the-shelf electronics, actuators, sensors, and communication systems. These resources are readily available, and the best part is that the entire launch doesn’t cost as much as launching a satellite.
- Advancement in sensor technology. Today, guiding a spacecraft to space can be done with high-end precision and autonomy. From light detection and ranging (LiDAR) to flash optical sensors, space technology is getting better by the day.
- Advancement in camera systems. CubeSat camera systems are some of the highly specialized cameras you can find in any industry. These cameras capture high spatial resolution, and they also transmit the images quickly to the onboard computer.
Why a CubeSat
With high-performance and highly specialized satellite subsystems, a CubeSat is designed to deliver on its expectation with little to no intervention.
A typical CubeSat contains an antenna, a transceiver, camera lenses, and solar-charged batteries assembled as one finished product sheathed in solar panels.
Some of the benefits of using a CubeSat for earth observation include:
- They are cheaper to launch – Most CubeSats are launched as auxiliary payloads on pre-determined missions. They also share rockets with other satellites; hence the initial cost is low.
- They are cheap to replace – Replacing a CubeSat is relatively cheaper than replacing a failed satellite. The cost runs in thousands of dollars, not millions of dollars.
- They are highly versatile – they can carry a high-definition CubeSat camera for detailed earth observation and imaging. Some mini cameras are highly specialized and can allow for ultra-high video recording.
- They have several use cases – Due to their small size and the ability to deploy at scale, CubeSat systems have several use cases. For instance, they can monitor and report deforestation in real-time or monitor real-time situations in conflict-prone areas.
CubeSat Cameras are Revolutionizing Earth Observation
Satellite cameras work just like aerospace cameras but with some added features and enhanced capabilities. Due to their demanding applications and relatively harsh and uncertain environments, CubeSat Cameras are engineered for high-end precision and accuracy.
Over the years, CubeSat cameras have evolved to incorporate some of the latest technologies, such as built-in high-speed data storage, color snapshot, and high frame rate video recording.
These technologies are next-gen and are revolutionizing the space exploration industry.
Some of the CubeSat cameras bring advanced imaging capabilities such as HD night vision.
These cameras are often placed on the long axis of the spacecraft such that earth observation is achieved with Nadir pointing.
Additionally, CubeSat systems are designed for integration with different sizes of cameras. Most CubeSat cameras in the market range from 1U to 6U. A 1U or one unit camera is intended for a one-unit CubeSat which typically measures 10 cm X 10 cm X 10 cm.
The best CubeSat camera will feature advanced multispectral or hyperspectral imaging with specialized optics and space-certified electronics to bring cutting-edge visuals.
When it comes to space exploration, CubeSats are increasingly winning the popularity battle. As far as picking the right CubeSat cameras for your miniature spacecraft is concerned, you should always pay attention to the size, mass, swath, and Ground Sampling Distance (GSD).
The other factors to consider are the operating temperature range of the cameras and how easy it is to integrate the CubeSat cameras into the satellite design.
Now that you’ve read through to the end, feel free to leave a question or comment about earth observation or CubeSat cameras in the comments section.