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  • In the Spirit of Managing the Planet

Photonics Spectra
Oct 2008
At the core of a growing network of concerned countries, scientists and citizens. Imaging from space.

Gathering satellite images of Earth is nothing new. Nor is using the information to analyze our continents, oceans and weather-related events for environmental, strategic and reconnaissance purposes.

What seems to be changing is the way in which satellite imaging is fitting into the new, collaborative world consciousness of managing the planet – a trend that several world-class scientists believe will usher in a new era of balancing global need and preservation.

Witness the network, funding and technology behind the Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF), which was launched this summer by Prime Ministers Gordon Brown of Britain, Jens Stoltenberg of Norway and the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group President Donald Kaberuka, all of whom have led the charge.


Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (left) looks on as Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown (right) signs the Congo Basin Forest Fund at Lancaster House in central London on Tuesday, June 17, 2008. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis, pool).

“Together we are pledging to work to secure the future of one of the world’s last remaining ancient forests,” Brown said. “Preserving our forests is vital if we are going to reduce global emissions and tackle climate change.

The satellite-borne camera is a high-resolution system created by a team at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory near Didcot, UK. Called the RALCam3, the camera will monitor damage to the rainforest’s cover and provide continuous analysis of the situation there for development of land management strategies.

RALCam3 is expected to be launched into space by the end of 2010 into a low-Earth, sun-synchronous orbit of 650-km altitude. The camera will have an all-refractive optical design and will use radiation-tolerant glasses. According to Nick Waltham, head of RAL’s Imaging Systems Division, RALCam3 will provide 10-m-per-pixel ground sampling. The image width of 88 km means large areas of the terrain can be imaged in one satellite pass.

Duo maps the oceans

At about the same time the Congo Basin Rain Forest fund was announced, Jason-2, an ocean altimetry satellite, was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, Calif., USA, to join its experimental sibling, Jason-1, in orbit about 1336 km above the Earth at a 66¼ inclination. Jason-2’s Ocean Surface Topography Mission, once in full operation, will supply information critical to the monitoring of climate change, ocean circulation and weather.

Jason-2 is the continuation of an existing successful collaboration between the United States and Europe and represents a global endeavour among several partners. Responsibilities for satellite development and launch are shared between Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales and NASA.

Endangered wildlife in the Virunga National Park

Targeting wildlife preservation, GeoEye’s high-resolution satellite sensor IKONOS is making good use of its 0.82-m panchromatic resolution at nadir, a very desirable feature in applications ranging from environmental assessments and land cover mapping to habitat monitoring and general land management studies.

IKONOS presents a 3-dimensional model of the Virunga National Parks Volcano.

Operating with multispectral and pan-chromatic imagery at 1- and 4-m resolution, IKONOS has retrieved images of Virunga National Park in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo that have been used to monitor wildlife in the park, most notably the mountain gorillas that have been critically endangered because of poaching and civil wars. Virunga is also home to endangered savanna and forest elephants, and critically endangered white rhinos and chimpanzees.

Highest resolution yet

Complementing its IKONOS satellite system is GeoEye’s GeoEye-1 satellite, believed to have the highest resolution of any commercial imaging system. Launched last month from Vandenberg. GeoEye-1 will collect imagery about 40 per cent faster for panchromatic and 25 per cent faster for multispectral collections. Together, the IKONOS and GeoEye-1 satellites can collect almost 1 million square kilometres of imagery per day.

IKONOS, in concert with many wildlife preservation agencies, has gathered imagery used to monitor the plight of the mountain gorillas.

GeoEye-1 will collect images with a ground resolution of 0.41 m in the pan-chromatic or black-and-white mode. It will collect multispectral or colour imagery at 1.65-m resolution, which is a factor of two better than existing commercial satellites with four-band multispectral imaging capabilities (RGB and NIR) especially suited for crop management and forestry.

GeoEye-1’s optical telescope and high-speed digital electronics can process 700 million pixels per second, and its camera allows for side-to-side extensions of its 15.2-km-wide swath or multiple images of the same target during a single pass to create stereo images. Its ability to provide imagery for large-scale mapping projects makes it suitable for a number of industries including environmental monitoring and land-use management.

The September launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket on behalf of Boeing Launch Services.

“This launch, and our important relationship with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), shows how public-private partnerships can be successful for the collection of broad areas of the Earth,” said Matthew O’Connell, GeoEye chief executive officer. The company will begin providing high-resolution color imagery of the Earth to its customers worldwide this fall.

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