Earth Observation Satellites from the UK. Find out more about UK’s space industry

4th Mar 2022
Earth Observation Satellites from the UK. Find out more about UK’s space industry

The first Earth Observation Satellites were launched about 60 years ago. They’ve become widely used for scientific, economic, and political purposes since that. One of the most important features of Earth Observation Satellites nowadays is the ability to observe the global environment, especially the significant climate changes caused by human activity. Satellite agencies of the leading countries combine their efforts in Earth Observation to eliminate the devastating consequences of climate change and ensure the safety and sustainability of our planet.

Satellites have proven to be an ideal tool for climate change monitoring as they can track the greenhouse gases level and composition in the atmosphere, changes of ocean currents, polar ice melting speed, etc. The most precise modern optical Earth Observation satellites with an orbit height of 435 miles are equipped with a high-resolution camera that produces pictures of a 4inch x 4inch area on the ground. Radar or Lidar Satellites with an orbit height of 22,236 miles are less precise but can monitor larger areas (thousands of miles) and take pictures on the Earth’s surface and under it. EO satellites collect and provide data on weather change and air quality, monitor the forest cover and agricultural fields condition, control the traffic on land and water, monitor underground and terrestrial-based infrastructure. With the help of EO satellites, we can react promptly to any man-made and natural disasters and save lives. It also allows the derivation of digital elevation models and topographic maps. To be precise, Earth Observation Satellites are our eyes on our planet. In the following article, you will find more information about the British Earth Observation Satellites and the UK’s contribution to the Earth Observation and satellite data market.

Earth Observation satellites from the UK

The British space sector includes many companies and organisations which are involved in the development, manufacturing and technical support of Earth Observation satellites in orbit, as well as software development for collecting and processing information, modelling and forecasting the environmental process and data provision to the end users. The UK is a leader in space satellite manufacturing in Europe and only concedes the world superiority to the US. The majority of the UK produced satellites, and related services are provided to other countries, while there are not many Earth Observation satellites in orbit serving the interests of the UK itself.

The list of Earth Observation satellites in past and present:

BNSCDMC 3 (Microsat-300)
UK-DMC 1 (BNSCat 1) [Microsat-100]
UK-DMC 2 [Microsat-100]
Earth-iVividX 2
Vivid-I 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
SenEarthTV 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
SSTLCarbonite 1 (CBNT 1)
Carbonite 2 (CBNT 2)
Carbonite 3 (CBNT 3)
SSTL-S1 4 (Microsat-300)
University of SurreyUoSat 5
UoSat 12

If you click on the hyperlinks listed above, you will see that most of the satellites were manufactured by SSTL (Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd), the largest manufacturer and operator of small satellites in the UK, established in 1985. SEN, the UK video service provider, has hired Lithuanian NanoAvionics to build 16-U CubeSats EarthTV craft to capture ultra-high-definition video from space. SEN plans to launch the first EarthTV satellite in 2021, followed by four more Earth Observation satellites in 2022.

Satellite data services from the UK

It’s hard to underestimate the UK contribution to satellite data services development and provision. There are more than 300 companies and organisations located in the UK that work in the space applications segment, the majority of them in London and Scotland. The Edinburgh based Ecometrica provides smart solutions for Earth Observation and proposes global initiatives:

  • Forests 2020 to protect and restore more than 750 million acres of tropical forests by means of advanced forest area monitoring.
  • SEOS – Scottish Earth Observation Service to advance EO apps in Scotland.

Another Scotland-based company, Bird.i, strives to provide Earth Observation satellite imagery in the most convenient and accessible way. Its solutions are widely used by AutoCAD projects for tech analysis and to fight against fake news.

The UK’s collaboration in Earth Observation

And of course, the UK retains the leading role in cooperation for the common good with other space countries, agencies, and companies. The UK’s participation in the European Space Agency (ESA) and its missions since 1985 has always been a huge success. The UK’s membership in the European Space Agency is not affected by Brexit. The UK continues to participate in ESA programs: Copernicus, SMOS, CryoSat, Aeolus, TRUTHS, Biomass, etc.

The companies which produce and operate the Earth Observation satellites, such as Deimos Space, Airbus, Spire, have their offices in the UK. The UK is also a part of the CEOS – Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, which unites 100 countries and organizations.

The UK government, business, science, and society have a mutual understanding that only the joint effort can save our planet, humankind, and life. National Space Strategy, released in September 2021, reaffirms UK’s determination to explore outer space and use it to help solve challenges worldwide. The UK plans to double its presence in the world’s space market by 2030, which means its contribution to Earth Observation will become even more significant, and UK’s Earth Observation satellites will dominate in the world’s space industry.

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