A space technology startup is developing an imaging radar instrument that can provide real-time access to imagery, regardless of weather or daylight conditions.
The device, by the startup company Iceye, provides quick-response pictures from space by using microsatellites equipped with imaging radar technology.
The Iceye instruments are capable of seeing through clouds, obscure weather conditions, and in the dark – all conditions that limit camera-based services in situations where waiting for daylight and nice weather is not an option.
The images provided by Iceye could be used to help search and rescue services, and provide additional support to disaster relief organisations.
Iceye’s co-founder and CEO, Rafal Modrzewski, described how early iterations of the technology are working as a tool for humanitarian causes.
“Just last week, we were in Greece to help the aid organisations. They are struggling to rescue the refugees crossing the bay to Lesvos in their overcrowded boats,” he said.
“We brought ground-based radars to track the vessels and they were game changing to the rescue operation, but their range is limited. The order-to-delivery time for commercially available satellite imagery is around a week, which doesn’t help if the boats can capsize and disappear in minutes. That’s why we are working hard every day to get our own service up and running.”
Industries such as logistics, energy, agriculture and anyone involved in space exploration could also benefit from having fast access to the images Iceye satellites will be able to provide once the concept is fully realised.
Similar technology to Iceye’s satellites is already used by government and military operators, but the company hopes to make this quick-response imagery open to the mass market. For that to happen, the cost of the technology would have to drop.
Pekka Laurila, Iceye’s co-founder and CFO, said: “We want to make this technology accessible to everyone at a commercially feasible cost level, which means reducing the satellite unit prices over 100 fold compared to traditional satellites. One of the ways we achieve this is by utilising off-the-shelf mobile electronics and mass manufacturing.”
Iceye’s satellites are designed to operate in swarms of multiple units. By doing this the company hope they will be more reliable while still being capable of providing quick access to imagery from anywhere on the globe.
The size of the satellites also means they are 20 times lighter than those currently used by various governments.
“We believe this breakthrough in earth imaging is going to have a real positive impact on the world,” said Modrzewski.