Researchers will meet at a workshop next week to consider a proposed Earth-imaging satellite that would use advanced technologies to demonstrate how radar mission costs can be dramatically reduced while still producing unique data for science, commercial remote sensing, and emergency management applications.
Engineers, scientists and industry representatives will meet to weigh options for proceeding with the proposed mission, called LightSAR, a small synthetic aperture radar mission expected to cost less than about $150 million, including its launch vehicle.
"A successful LightSAR Technology Validation Mission would usher in a new era where low-cost radar satellites are routinely available for NASA research, commercial applications, and many other uses," said Dr. Tony Freeman, one of the workshop's organizers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "At this workshop, NASA will discuss the proposed LightSAR mission with representatives from U.S. industry and the user community, and get their input on how best to proceed. This will include possible partnership agreements with U.S. companies."
The workshop, sponsored by JPL and the U.S. Geological Survey, will be held August 27-29 at the Earth Resources Observational Satellite (EROS) Data Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
The potential commercial market for radar images and related information includes federal and state governments, and companies involved in forest management, agriculture-related business, oil, gas and mineral extraction. Earth scientists could use the LightSAR data to measure surface deformation in earthquake faults, quantify biomass change in deforestation studies, and map the extent of floods and the regrowth in their wake.
The combination of the global reach of spaceborne radar and its ability to provide images day or night, independent of the weather, is the primary attraction for potential new radar data users, according to Freeman. LightSAR's L-Band radar measurements would provide high-resolution images on a nearly continuous basis, giving the project considerable capability to map changes in land cover, generate topographic maps and provide long-term mapping of natural hazards.
"One of the keys to this mission is the use of new technologies to greatly reduce the weight of the radar, yet still obtain improved performance, including advanced lightweight antenna panels and high-efficiency electronics," said Dr. Steven Bard, the LightSAR pre-project manager at JPL. "It is very ambitious to attempt to prove these new technologies while also developing an 'operational' three-year mission that produces valuable data for science, civilian, and commercial users. Ultimately, we think there is a profitable commercial market for this information, so we are trying to team with industry and get them to share the cost of LightSAR development and operations."
In parallel to the spacecraft and radar development, a program to develop applications of LightSAR image data will be managed by NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi.
The implementation of a ground segment to support the acquisition of LightSAR science data for NASA is under study at the Alaska SAR Facility, Fairbanks, Alaska, and the EROS Data Center, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
JPL is managing the pre-project development of the LightSAR mission for NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.
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