CLYDE SPACE, the pioneering company which designed and manufactured Scotland’s first satellite, is collaborating with a prestigious American university and a team of leading US-based scientists to develop a “game-changer” in vital new technology to study ocean biology.
The Glasgow company announced today it is building CubeSats to observe the changing biology of the surface ocean and its implications for the marine food chain, climate scientists, fisheries and coastal resource managers, and a range of other experts from the military to oil spill responders.
The project is being led by John M Morrison, Professor of Physics and Physical Oceanography at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and also involves Cloudland Instruments of Santa Barbara, CA, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD, and Hawk Institute for Space Sciences, Pocomoke City, MD.
Professor Morrison said it was a “science dream team”.
Clyde Space CEO Craig Clark said: “We’re extremely excited to be involved in this mission. Not only will we being working with the A-Team of World Ocean Color scientists, we’ll be producing two of the most advanced CubeSats ever built.”
Professor Morrison said a recent report by the National Academy of Science showed ocean colour satellites provided a unique vantage point for observing the changing biology in the surface ocean.
He said: “Space observations have transformed biological oceanography and are critical to advance our knowledge of how such changes affect important elemental cycles, such as the carbon and nitrogen cycles, and how the ocean’s biological processes influence the climate system.
“In addition, ocean colour remote sensing allows scientists to assess changes in primary production, which forms the base of the marine food chain. Thus, continuous satellite observation of ocean colour is essential to monitoring the health of the marine ecosystem and its ability to sustain important fisheries, especially in a time of global change and acidification.
“Any interruption in the ocean colour record would severely hamper the work of climate scientists, fisheries and coastal resource managers, and an expanding array of other users, from the military to oil spill responders.”
Clyde Space is a leading producer of small satellite, nanosatellite and CubeSat systems ideal for this type of mission.
Craig said: “Previous missions have used large satellites which come with a big price attached whereas the CubeSats are flexible, low-cost and economically viable.
“The aim is for these first two spacecraft will act as a precursor to a constellation of tens of SeaHawks, providing a global view of the health of our oceans and inland waters every day. This just wouldn’t be possible without the use of miniature spacecraft, so we really are breaking new ground in the use of space every day through miniaturisation.”
Previous ocean monitoring to collect biological data from space used SeaWIFS (Sea-Viewing Wide Field-of-View Sensor). Its development took more than 10 years and cost $14.1m (£9.4m).
The new project is called SOCON (Sustained Ocean Observation from Nanosatellites). It will
develop and construct two SeaHawk CubeSats with HawkEye Ocean Colour Sensors in two years at a cost of $1.675m (£1.12m). The final product will be 130 times smaller (10cm×10cm×34cm), 45 times lighter (approximately 4 kg), with a ground resolution 7-15 times better (150-75 meters per pixel), while still having a Signal/Noise Ratio approximately 50% that of SeaWiFs. The planned launch of the satellites is early 2017.
The initiative is being funded by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation set up by Intel co-founder Gordon and his wife to encourage ideas that create an enduring impact in the areas of science, environmental observation and patient care.
The announcement of this exciting mission comes as Clyde Space prepares to exhibit at this year’s CubeSat Developer’s Workshop in California where the company will also be presenting its work on spacecraft pointing subsystems (known as an attitude determination and control system).
UKube-1, Scotland’s first satellite, was designed and built by Clyde Space in Glasgow and was launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, last July.
The company is backed by private equity specialists Coralinn LLP, the investment vehicle of leading Scottish entrepreneur Hugh Stewart OBE, and Nevis Capital.