Apr 02, 2014

Space-age project gets big picture of Earth

Estimated Article Reading Time: 1 min.

It may look like a giant golf ball in the middle of a paddock near Bluff but it is, in fact, a piece of technical space equipment.

The geodesic radome is part of the Awarua Satellite Ground Station upgrade that will enable it to host a pioneering Earth observation project – one of only two stations in the world to do so.

The radome, made from carbon composite, houses a 5-metre dish-antenna, protecting it from the Southland weather.

It will control a constellation of 28 Earth observation microsatellites (with cameras) and download photographs of all the Earth from space every day.

Venture Southland enterprise project manager Robin McNeill said the antenna inside would pick up satellite signals when they were detectable in our Southland sky and track it.

While doing this, it sent commands and downloaded the information into a computer inside the radome. This information was then sent via the internet to the San Francisco- based company.

The company will store more than 10 million megapixels, the equivalent of 1 million-plus digital camera snaps. Images are already being downloaded by satellites and will be for the use of the public, commercial and humanitarian applications.

Planet Labs radio engineer Matt Ligon said the goal was to have 300 satellites taking daily images but could not say how long it would be before they were available. However, McNeill believed it could be as soon as the end of this year.

The 7m radome and its electronics were installed yesterday by Planet Labs engineers. The radome is made up of 75 panels and 1740 nuts. A further 960 nuts were used to secure the antenna.

Planet Labs, founded by National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientists, is a space information company that has a team of United States venture capital investors.

Venture Southland has signed an agreement with Planet Labs to provide facilities and services at the ground station.