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All about Satellite Cameras: Understanding Modern Space Exploration

All about Satellite Cameras: Understanding Modern Space Exploration

Micro and minisatellites are becoming more popular than their bigger brothers, thanks to technology. Their reduced sizes and improved functionalities have also revolutionized the world of satellite cameras and other payloads. Read on to learn more.

As space technology continues to advance, so do space missions. Today, smaller satellites are replacing their traditional, heavier counterparts in applications that range from earth observation and communication to research studies.

This advancement in satellite technology is also pushing the limits of what’s possible in the design of satellite subsystems. The notable change in size makes it necessary to replace older payloads such as satellite cameras with ultra-light, high-performance alternatives.

The Evolution of the Space Industry

Today, it’s almost impossible to talk of SmallSats or small satellites without mentioning satellite cameras. Since the first satellite was launched in the late 1950s, a lot has happened in the space industry.

A new class of mini, micro, and nanosatellites have emerged, and they are seeing wider adoption in the market. In the 1980s, microsatellites weighing between 10 and 100 kg gained popularity in the space exploration niche. These tiny spacecraft served in specific missions such as store and forward communications.

Shortly after, nanosatellites in the mass range of 1kg to 10 kg debuted on the market. What followed were even smaller types called picosatellites weighing less than 1 kg.

These SmallSats used microprocessors as onboard computers. And due to their limited sizes, their capabilities and performance are still limited compared to their bigger counterparts, i.e., micro and minisatellites.

The modern space industry is undergoing rapid innovation, and new technologies are emerging by the day. SmallSats are now embracing state-of-the-art commercial off-the-shelf technology from onboard computers and communication systems to cameras.

These technologies are permitting cheaper and novel ways to launch meaningful earth observation missions. As satellites become smaller and complex, payloads are becoming more capable and compact.

Satellite cameras, for instance, are following suit in the new complexity. The demand for reliability and quality assurance is shaping space imaging and earth observation niches.

Satellite Camera Systems: How They Work, Specs, and Use Cases

SmallSats comprises several components from a power supply unit, sensors, receivers, solar cells, communication units to an onboard computer. Most SmallSats designed for scientific studies, technology demonstration, or earth observation must carry cameras.

These payloads are designed to work in extreme conditions. Satellite cameras capture space in a range of electromagnetic waves. They are equipped with sensors that register the signal reflected or emitted by the earth objects or surrounding area.

Satellite cameras capture panchromatic, multispectral, and hyperspectral images. Examples of photos and images taken by satellite cameras include those available on Google Maps. To capture such high-resolution images, these payloads should be highly reliable and accurate.

Satellite cameras should not only feature a compact design, but they should also showcase complex functionalities. Mini cameras in the market that have been designed for space exploration work just like aerospace cameras.

However, some come with advanced specifications, such as hyperspectral imaging capabilities for capturing narrow spectral zones across the entire spectral range. That said, here are the main uses of satellite cameras in the space industry.

  • Earth observation – they are used to obtain high-quality images from the low earth orbit. This is possible due to the integration of compact and high-tech space-qualified electronics.
  • Space exploration and adventures – most space exploration companies are already underway in launching SmallSats for space research. These satellites need highly specialized optics for taking images in space and sending them back to earth.

Choosing a Satellite Camera

When choosing satellite cameras, there are several factors to consider. First, you want to ensure the size of the camera matches the size of the satellite. The mass of the camera and the maximum allowable mass of the satellite are the other things to keep in mind.

It’s also advisable to pick from cameras designed for a wide range of loads. Such satellite cameras should easily integrate with most satellite designs. Here are the other aspects you should prioritize.

  • Design consideration – they should withstand adverse conditions to ensure accurate imaging without distortion. The lenses should be high-quality and designed to meet and even exceed the satellite’s lifetime.
  • Resolution – factors such as the ground sampling distance (GSD) determine the smallest image size that the camera can capture. Most brands in the market offer multi and hyper-spectral high-resolution imagery.

Final Takeaways

Satellite cameras integrated into small satellites are often designed to be highly reliable and accurate. They use special sensors to collect EM radiation reflected from the earth, and due to their compact design, they can survive extreme conditions in space.

Picking the right satellite camera narrows down the size of the spacecraft and the intended space mission. Choosing the right product specs and model means you’ll enjoy high-quality images and benefit from high reliability.

Have a question or comment about space exploration, space missions, or anything concerning the topic, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section.

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by Brian Perry // Brian Perry is a contributor to Businessing Magazine.

Opinions expressed by contributors are their own.