Industry Updates

by | Jul 18, 2012

CryoSat Satellite Goes to Sea

The gravity field of the ocean reflects seafloor topography, called bathymetry. The improved radar measurements from CryoSat will be used to improve bathymetry.

The European Space Agency launched CryoSat in 2010 to measure sea-ice thickness in the Arctic, but high-resolution mapping of ocean-floor topography now is being added to the ice mission's repertoire.

The topography of the ocean surface mimics the rises and dips of the ocean floor due to the gravitational pull. Areas of greater mass, such as underwater mountains, have a stronger pull, attracting more water and producing a minor increase in ocean-surface height. Therefore, CryoSat's radar altimeter, which measures sea-surface height, incidentally maps the ocean floor in previously uncharted areas.

Recent studies at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego indicate that this improved precision, combined with three or more years of ocean mapping, will result in global seafloor topography”bathymetry”that is 200 percent to 400 percent more accurate than current measurements.


Image Credit:  European Space Agency


GeoEye Facing EnhancedView Headwinds

According to separate letters it received from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) on June 22, 2012, GeoEye will receive only $181 million of the $337 million it was expecting from the U.S. government to
build its next satellite. The company also learned its full EnhancedView deal is in jeopardy.

GeoEye submitted the two letters to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on the same day it received them. The first informs GeoEye that the government may not exercise the full contract option for year three (Sept. 1, 2012”Aug. 31, 2013) unless it gets additional funding, and the second notifies the company that the government will not fully fund a cost-share agreement for acquiring the next GeoEye satellite, GeoEye-2.

EnhancedView is a 10-year NGA contract (one-year with nine one-year options) with GeoEye and DigitalGlobe to purchase imagery on the basis of a Service Level Agreement. The contract was signed in 2010 as a follow-on to earlier contracts that date back to 2003. Constrained funding and reduced imagery requirements now that the Iraq war has ended and the Afghanistan conflict is winding down are leading NGA to reconsider the deal.

The second letter says the government will not provide all of its share for building and launching GeoEye-2, currently scheduled for launch next year. NGA originally indicated it would pay up to $337 million of the approximately $835 million cost of the satellite (including launch and insurance). GeoEye told the SEC that NGA has already obligated $181 million of the $337 million, and NGA's letter confirms it will meet that obligation, but no further funds will be provided.


ITT Exelis Acquires Space Computer Corp.

ITTExelis recently acquired Space Computer Corp., a privately owned firm that produces real-time signal processing systems, software and algorithms to exploit hyperspectral sensor data. In 2011, the company posted revenues of $14.1 million and currently employs about 37 people at its Los Angeles facility.

Hyperspectral sensors are installed on a large number of satellites, manned aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles and are employed to detect and locate hidden or obscured targets, cue other sensors for further verification, and downlink data in real time to analysts and other end users. Space Computer, which will become a part of Exelis Geospatial Systems, has provided technology for nearly every U.S. military hyperspectral sensor produced since 1996.


Military Wants Drone App Store

An MQ-1 Predator instructor with the California Air National Guard remotely controls a drone and could one day control multiple drones at once if a new Pentagon project comes to fruition.

The U.S. military has dozens of different drones in its arsenal, each with its unique controller, but one Pentagon office thinks that's archaic and wants controls that can handle an entire fleet at once.

Inside the Pentagon's Acquisition, Technology and Logistics directorate, a team is working on ways to operate different types of drones with a single controller. It's a big technical challenge”one that's failed in the past, because the different manufacturers of different drones each have proprietary control software.

The official in charge of the latest effort, however, envisions a system architecture that's agnostic about what kind of drone it controls and allows human controllers to think in terms of drone fleets rather than individual robots”even if the fleets comprise different kinds of drones. This would be accomplished by creating an App Store similar to the ones available to consumers.

Rich Ernst, the Pentagon's lead officer for its Unmanned  Aerial Systems Control Segment, says in an e-mailed statement to WIRED magazine's Danger Room, The methodology is akin to the commercial smart-phone industry, wherein applications are downloaded to suit individual user taste and productivity. The repository allows small software businesses to compete on a level playing field with the major defense conglomerates.

The first company to announce this kind of universal application is California-based DreamHammer, which has developed software that can operate several robots from the same tablet or laptop.


Photo Science Purchases MJ Harden 

Photo Science entered into a definitive agreement to purchase MJ Harden, Mission, Kan. In addition to enhanced client support, the agreement increases Photo Science's flight operations to 13 aircraft.

Photo Science currently operates six large-format digital framing cameras that include both the Z/I DMC and Vexcel UltraCam sensors. In addition, the acquisition brings Photo Science's total number of LiDAR sensors to eight, including four Optech Geminis, two LeicaALS-70s and two LeicaALS-50II models. The acquisition also strengthens Photo Science's strategic relationship with GeoEye, providing enhanced support for aerial services nationwide and additional geospatial services.

Satellite Observations Identify Piracy Trends 

This chart tracks mean daily wind speed at Socotra (Yemen) and pirate attacks by latitude for April 2010 to July 2011. When the wind speed dropped, pirate attacks increased.

Earth observation data from the European Space Agency's GlobWave project reveal that Mother Nature seems to be slowing down the rate of successful pirate attacks on the high seas.

In a study by the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF), using information from the GlobWave project, climate factors were examined alongside piracy in the Indian Ocean. GlobWave compiles satellite data on ocean waves. Satellites can help to forecast winds and waves, and can therefore indicate favorable conditions for pirate attacks.

Owing to security problems in the region, no in-situ measurements were available, making GlobWave data uniquely placed to provide regular and accurate wind and wave height information. The study found there was a strong correlation between successful pirate activity and wind speed and wave height.

Credit:  European Space Agency

SMOS Satellite: European Water Supplies in Jeopardy

SMOS data show the difference in soil moisture in Europe from February 2012 and February 2011. The red color (negative values) indicates 2012 is drier than February 2011, while the blue depicts more soil moisture in 2012 than 2011.

Although Western Europe has enjoyed mild weather trends in 2012, the European Space Agency's Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity (SMOS) mission reveals the negative consequences of this recent bout of good weather.

Launched in 2009, SMOS looks at microwave  radiation emitted from Earth to calculate the amount of moisture held in the surface layer of soil”up to a depth of about 5 cm. The satellite's readings confirm the trend of below-average rainfall across Europe, which began last fall and has continued into the first months of 2012, is causing a severe lack of water in Western Europe, particularly in Spain, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Credit: European Space Agency


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