ICEYE-X2 first SAR image (Source: ICEYE)

More eyes in the sky via SSO-A launch

Last week’s Spaceflight SSO-A mission put 64 small satellites into low earth orbit (LEO). At least 17 had imaging payloads on board with sensors covering infrared, visible light, radar, and multispectral wavelengths.

Precisely categorizing everything put into space onboard SSO-A is a challenge due to the total number of satellites put up at once and the number of different organizations involved in launch, with a combination of commercial, engineering research and development (R&D), national security, and higher education/university organizations involved.  Additional complexity comes from satellites carrying multiple different instruments.

Commercial imaging

A number of high-resolution Earth Operation (EO) satellites were lofted into orbit for commercial firms. Planet added SkySat 14 and 15 plus three new Dove satellites.  All satellites are operating as expected, with the SkySats delivering 72 centimeter resolution imagery, while the 3U-size Doves should deliver 3 to 5 meter imagery – or better; the Doves are the latest and incorporate improvements Planet has yet to disclose.

BlackSky added its second satellite to its planned constellation of 60 and has successfully received imagery.   Global-2 weighs in at 56 kilograms and is expected to take up to 1000 images per day at 1 meter resolution. It is expected to have a 3 year orbital lifetime.

AISTECH SAT 2 is a 6U cubesat with a thermal imaging camera, plus AIS maritime and ADS-B aircraft tracking packages.  Spain-based Aistech plans an initial constellation of 25 satellites and will expand to 100 satellites over time.

Astro Digital Landmapper-BC 4 is a 6U cubesat providing wide area multispectral imaging at a resolution 22 meters, with the company CEO tweeting successfully contact with the satellite in orbit. The company plans to have an 8 to 10 multispectral satellite constellation, plus a complementary set of higher-resolution visible imagery satellites.

Two commercial firms put synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellites into orbit. Capella Space’s first satellite, Denali, is a 40 kilogram satellite with the company reporting successful contact. Because it is an internal test satellite, the company doesn’t expect to release imaging data. ICEYE’s second satellite X2 is in operation, with the Finland-based company releasing its first 3 meter imagery on December 11.

Research & Development

On the R&D side, Raytheon’s SeeMe 25 kilogram satellite stands out.  Built for DARPA for demonstration of a rapid response satellite designed to be quickly launched to provide imagery to troops on the ground within 90 minutes of flyover, SeeMe will be in a very low orbit to get the best imagery and is designed to have an orbital lifetime of less than 60 to 90 days.  A 24 satellite constellation would be launched when needed to provide imagery independent of traditional national assets.

KazSTSAT was built with SSTL in a joint development program with Kazakhstan. It is a 50 kilogram satellite with a wide-area multispectral imager capable of providing 22 meter resolution. The satellite was built with 14 Kazakh engineers working alongside SSTL engineers to design and build the vehicle.


OHB Italia SpA built EAGLET-1 as a pathfinder for a larger constellation of 20 EAGLET-NG satellites for earth observation and maritime surveillance.  The 3U+ (10x10x34cm) satellite includes a panchromatic imager capable of 5 meter resolution and an AIS tracking payload. Future EAGLET-NG satellites will include thermal and multispectral sensors, plus a propulsion system.  Other services the EAGLET-NG constellation may add in the future include Internet of Things (IoT) and video broadcast services.

At least two South Korean satellites put up by SSO-A incorporate cameras.  K2SAT, built by the consortium including the Republic of Korea Air Force, KAIST, and Chosun University, is a 3U cubesat that includes an onboard camera and an amateur radio voice repeater.  SNUSAT 2, built by the Seoul National University, is a 3U cubesat with wide angle and high resolution cameras; no details on resolution have been provided.

Brazil’s ITASAT-1 is a 6U cubesat built by the ITA. It includes an 80 meter resolution camera, a GPS receiver, and several other experimental payloads.


Doug Mohney

Doug Mohney, a principal at Cidera Analytics, has been working and writing about IT and satellite industries for over 20 years. His real world experience including stints at two start-ups, a commercial internet service provider that went public in 1997 for $150 million and a satellite internet broadband company. Follow him on Twitter at DougonTech or contact him at dmohney139 (at) gmail (dot) com.

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