Funded by ASI (the Italian Space Agency), the Italian Ministry of Defence and the Italian Ministry of Education, Universities and Scientific Research, the constellation was realised in stages. The first satellite was launched ten years ago on June 7, 2007, followed by the second in December 2007, the third in October 2008 and the fourth in November 2010.
In its first decade of service, COSMO-SkyMed has captured over one million radar scenes worldwide, by monitoring, for example, UNESCO World Heritage sites and generating data that is vital to understanding the phenomena that impact our Planet: assessing damage following natural disasters, such as earthquakes, landslides, and flooding; monitoring critical infrastructure, tracking the movement of glaciers, and monitoring illegal activities, such as oil spills and the trafficking of goods or people.
The Second Generation
Italian industry is now developing COSMO-SkyMed Second Generation (CSG), which foresees the launch of a first satellite in 2018 and a second one in 2019. The two new satellites of the constellation represent the top tier in radar observation from Space, in terms of precision, features and image quality.
Leonardo’s Space sector has contributed decisively to the realisation of the COSMO-SkyMed system: four radar satellites realised by Thales Alenia Space Italia (Thales/Leonardo) and a ground system built by Telespazio (Leonardo/Thales) that ensures the control of the constellation, programming, acquisition, processing and delivery of the images to civil and military end-users in all mission phases.
A dual use programme
COSMO-SkyMed was conceived for dual purposes, a programme designed for both civil applications (environmental monitoring, civil protection, Oil & Gas) as well as military ones. The general features enable interoperability with other systems and use in the context of international agreements. In particular, COSMO-SkyMed is able to meet the stringent operational requirements of Copernicus , the European Earth Observation programme.
Satellite Data for Emergency Support
Following the devastating earthquakes that hit vast areas of Central Italy last year, COSMO-SkyMed’s satellite technology confirmed the vital role they are able play in emergency support, providing satellite data that help assess the extent of the damage and enable the monitoring of events, thanks to the comparison of images captured before and after.
The processing of COSMO-SkyMed’s images proved fundamental in supporting the emergency rescue services of past global natural disasters, such as the earthquakes that struck China in 2008, L’Aquila (Italy) in 2009, Haiti in 2010, the tsunami in Japan in 2011, and the typhoon that hit the Philippines in 2013.
A New Integrated Map
Thanks to the use of special algorithms capable of highlighting variations even as small as just a few centimetres, the processing of images from the COSMO-SkyMed satellites are invaluable and unique sources of information. The development of these algorithms enabled the processing of a new type of image called a damage proxy map. This map is an experimental example of the fusion of images from optical space sensors, radar sensors and data, such as that of the COSMO-SkyMed satellites, and from geolocalised social media content. It is an innovative approach that enhances the information content of radar data by combining it with the more immediate, visual content of optical images. Thus, it is the first example of the evolution of geospatial applications combined with Information Technology and the Big Data world.