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Space Norway taps UK for marine monitoring radar satellite

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By Nick Flaherty

Space Norway is building a radar satellite system optimized for real time surveillance of ships at sea.

The microSAR satellite is unique in the way it can detect relatively small vessels in a very large area simultaneously.

Norway’s sea areas are seven times larger than the Norwegian land area and the Arctic and the High North is Norway’s most important strategic area of interest. This puts strong requirements on situational awareness in these areas. AIS (Automatic Identification System) has for many years been used for maritime surveillance but this requires the vessels themselves to send the required and correct AIS Information and so is based on cooperation.

Space Norway estimate that 5% of the vessels either do not send out AIS Information or are transmitting false information. Satellites with a radar, such as MicroSAR, will be able to detect these vessels independent of the use of AIS. MicroSAR satellites will also use an AIS Receiver to correlate radar detections with AIS Information.

The payloads will be developed and built by Norwegian suppliers, while the satellite bus and the radar antenna will be built in the UK by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), a subsidiary of Airbus. The first satellite will be launched early 2025 and followed by several others to establish a constellation. 

SSTL will deliver the satellite platform and be responsible for integration of the payloads on board. SSTL will also be responsible for building the radar antenna through their sub-contractor Oxford Space Systems (OSS).

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For SSTL this builds on its experience in designing and operating small radar missions which was gained from the NovaSAR-1 spacecraft, a mission strongly supported by the UK Space Agency, which was put into operations in 2018 and continues to serve five major customers around the world. SSTL and OSS have also been working on small radar mission products, and OSS recently announced its wrapped rib SAR antenna also developed with UK government support.

The payloads will be developed and produced by the Norwegian companies WideNorth, Eidsvoll Electronics (EIDEL), Kongsberg Seatex and Norwegian Defence research Establishment (FFI).

The MicroSAR System is optimized for covering Norwegian needs but will also offer and deliver maritime surveillance services in a global market in the same way as other radar satellites in space today, including surveillance of ship traffic, combating illegal fishing, search and rescue and oil spill detection.

The MicroSAR satellites will follow polar orbits in various orbital planes at an altitude of about 600 km and will weigh about 300 kg.

Space Norway will also work in close cooperation with Kongsberg Satellite Services (KSAT) which will build and operates the MicroSAR Ground System via its existing global network. This will provide services related to satellite operations and downlink of MicroSAR data. KSAT will also be responsible for marketing and sales of MicroSAR services and products as part of their portfolio, both in a national and an international market. The Norwegian Armed Forces will be the main customer and buy services and products from MicroSAR when in operation.

Space Norway’s current plans are to launch the first satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 as a Rideshare. When establishing a constellation, the satellites will be launched on dedicated launchers. The establishment of Andøya Spaceport may result in future MicroSAR satellites being launched from Norway.

www.sstl.co.uk

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