Confronting Catastrophe with New Space Technology

ICEYE launches world’s first SAR-equipped microsatellite into orbit

The last half century has seen the number of natural disasters worldwide quadruple to more than 400 a year, including earthquakes, storms and floods. Though there are safety measures and disaster monitoring systems in place, the Earth remains vulnerable to global hazards and large-scale destruction. What we need is an effective monitoring system that can provide valuable data to help aid in the prevention, preparation and relief efforts to combat these crises.

Over the past few decades, remote sensing has emerged as a formidable tool for studying active faulting and other changes in the Earth’s crust. As such, emergency response coordinators turn to geospatial technology to help provide rapid assessment of the impact of these events, establish relief efforts and undertake disaster recovery.

ICEYE, a New Space startup, is leading the effort with its satellite that comes equipped with Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology, a revolutionary way to access earth observation data at an unprecedented level of detail. They are currently developing a constellation of 18 SAR microsatellites, or cubesats, which will be able to collect a large amount of data from orbit. The instrument doesn’t require sunlight to capture images, instead relying on its own energy and using microwave radar to penetrate through clouds and darkness, saving lives even in cases of hurricanes, forest fires, or floods.

First Iceye X1 radar image from space of the Noatak National Preserve, Alaska.

Time and availability are both very important factors in the quality of disaster management. While most optical imagery satellites can only provide data twice a day if the weather is good, SAR comes with the ability to image in all conditions, and provides an average response time of just three hours, giving rescue teams on the ground up-to-date information. SAR technology can also improve flood and earthquake prediction by continuously monitoring the Earth’s geological movements, providing timely image acquisition, allowing for rapid data processing and broad information distribution.

The combined use of optical imagery and radar (SAR) can help with early detection, processing images of the disaster affected areas, locating the epicentre in case of earthquakes, and providing relief when main communication systems are damaged.

By retrieving continuous persistent data at a global scale along with fast image processing, ICEYE’s SAR can help with effective disaster response by allowing for preparedness and relief efforts, and minimize human casualties in the event of any natural calamity.

Synthetic Aperture Radar technology will soon become indispensable to the progress of humanity. ICEYE exhibits great potential for applying its SAR technology to assessing the damage and the on-ground situation in the aftermath of a disaster.

It proves to be a crucial component in gathering information at an early stage of the incidence of a disaster, especially when the impacted area is extensive and difficult to access from the ground. It’s an efficient approach to support the general public with humanitarian relief by opening lines of communication and enabling access to insightful and actionable data.

The Seine river and Orly, Paris airport at the start of 2018, captured by ICEYE-X1.



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Ann Maria

Ann Maria

CS Neophyte, budding fiction writer, now a big fan of common sense and rational thinking after realising I didn’t have much of either to begin with.