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Originally established to leverage satellite-mounted electro-optical (EO) systems to monitor and track ice flows in the Arctic, Finnish company ICEYE has developed a system that uses unique radars mounted on small 100kg satellites to conduct a variety of surveillance missions from maritime monitoring to border security. A prototype satellite, X1, was deployed in January this year and has transmitted over 1TB of data in its first three months of operation.

Local weather conditions make EO sensors inappropriate for up to 75% of the time: when continuous or persistent data requirements exist, this is unacceptable. ICEYE thus developed microwave radar technologies to allow for imaging in all predictable conditions. The instrument sends its own energy so it can image independent of sunlight, and since the microwave frequencies penetrate clouds and rain, weather will not hinder a mission.

The goal is to have useful imagery anywhere within a matter of a few hours. According to ICEYE, its unique synthetic aperture radar (SAR) micro-satellite design allows it to efficiently operate a large constellation of satellites, which enables access to SAR data, anywhere on the globe, at any time. With the full constellation of 18 satellites currently under construction, the company is aiming for an average of approx. three hours delay from ordering the satellite to image acquisition.

Existing systems offer radar imagery only available twice per day. This limited capacity requires satellite tasking to be pre-programmed several days in advance, especially for commercial customers. With the number of satellites anticipated in the ICEYE constellation, the company can provide imagery within very short lead times. The 50-strong in-house team will be able to provide frequent revisits, rapid mosaicing of larger areas with high resolution and co-operate with other satellite operators and data providers to provide complementary data layers.

The X1 satellite provides comprehensive image data by layering images from different sensors or multiple scans. (Image: ICEYE)

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