Dec 03, 2014

Could microsatellites be the future of civil Earth observations?

Over the last two years, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has made gathering visible and invisible information about the Earth a priority. Now, the office is looking for a way to capture that data from the sky for less.

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In the Federal Register, OSTP posted a request for information about the use of microsatellites – smaller, lighter, more inexpensive satellites – to collect observations from space. The office asked for input on the current and near-term state of microsatellite technology and whether microsatellite systems could be capable of meeting current and future civil Earth observation needs.

“Satellite platforms can be costly, and technology improvements are implemented on lengthy timeframes,” the RFI said. “As microsatellite technology improves, the cost of collecting sustained and scientific observations from space may decrease, not only reducing costs for current observations, but potentially enabling additional missions.”

According to Rich Leshner, the director of government affairs for Planet Labs, a company devoted to the development and deployment of microsatellite technology, the existence of OSTP’s RFI implies that small satellites can do quality data collection at a lower cost.

“I think what OSTP is appropriately trying to learn here is to really get a sense of the breadth of those capabilities,” Leshner said. “While it might be worded in such a way as to ask about feasibility, I think there’s really an appreciation for the feasibility that’s already been proven.”

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