CubeSat Cameras: Your Tip and Cue Strategy

Thys Cronje

Chief Commercial Officer at Simera Sense

Medium resolution CubeSat Cameras are well-positioned to provide a complementary tip and cue service to larger high-resolution, more expensive counterparts.

xScape100 Cubesat Camera

Tip and cue solve the proverbial needle in the haystack challenge. First, you need to find the haystack, and then you need to zoom in to find the needle. The tip and cue technique is not new. When you visit a new area or city, you may use a guide or map to identify possible sites of interest (tip) and use an online search to narrow down the sites you want to visit (cue).

The CubeSat Camera Race

Cubesats are increasingly used for Earth Observation with a solid drive to demonstrate remote sensing data’s commercial value. Over the past decade, we’ve seen several companies launching Cubesat Cameras and Earth Observation constellations to get eyeballs in space to detect a change and take actions daily.

The number of smaller satellites launched is growing exponentially, revisit periods are coming down to less than a day, and we see an increase in the range of data options (SAR, radio-occultation, RF, and optical spectral bands). Also, due to a NewSpace mindset, the cost of satellites and data are coming down. Furthermore, CubeSats with machine-to-machine and asset tracking capabilities add a new dimension to tip and cue (SDR, ADS-B, AIS, IoT and SIGNIT).

Benefits of Using CubeSat Cameras for Tip and Cue

High- to very high-resolution earth observation satellites do have limitations. First of all, the data cost is too high to conduct general monitoring of large areas. Especially when you are looking for unlawful shipping activities across the oceans or illegal logging of forests. Secondly, these high-resolution systems usually have a narrow field of view. Although most high-resolution satellites can monitor any place on earth daily, they cannot provide this service everywhere. Lastly, many bottlenecks exist in the midstream to downstream processing of high-resolution imaging data, limiting the time to act.

However, medium resolution CubeSat cameras must be seen as complementary to larger high-resolution systems. Leveraging medium to low-resolution sensors for tipping has the advantage that one can exploit high- to very high-resolution Earth Observation cueing data at an optimal cost.

  • Very high-resolution to ultra-high-resolution imagery is an expensive resource and needs to be optimized for efficient monitoring globally.
  • The CubeSat camera data with 5m to 1m GSD has the benefit that one can use it to scan relative large areas frequently to identify possible issues. Although the imagery may lack detail, providers can task this service on a global scale.
  • The analysis of lower resolution data can be automated with relative ease in the upstream and midstream value chain segments to accelerate the tipping process. Such automation and close loop

Automating the Tip and Cue Process

The success of a tip and cue process with CubeSat cameras is a function of the data analysis’s latency and accuracy.

For example, when looking at identifying illegal deforestation, the daily monitoring of a forest at 5m GSD in four to five spectral bands would be more than adequate to detect changes.  The operator uses a medium resolution tipping satellite to detect areas of interest across a wide area. Then, an automated tasking system can cue a satellite to capture particular areas.

Cueing a stationary object or area is relatively more manageable than a moving target, like ships. For a moving target, the velocity needs to be accounted for when shared with a cueing satellite. In this case, several tipping satellites may be used to estimate the trajectory of the object.

The fact is, a manual tip and cue process requires many humans in the loop and can be time-consuming, resulting in delays.

To solve the processing challenges, intelligent automation solutions are required. These solutions require a flexible and powerful infrastructrure that can accommodate intelligent artificial processing, sensor management, and data storage. Furthermore, the system needs extremely low latency, enabling an alarming chain and change detection while reducing the need to download raw data.

The xScape100 as a Tip and Cue Enabler

CubeSat Cameras for Tip and Cue

With its medium resolution, compact size and large coverage area, the xScape100 CubeSat Cameras are ideal for tip and cue application. If you combine these CubeSat Cameras with a robust onboard and downstream software framework, like the Unibap SpaceCloud, automation becomes a walk in the park.

For example, the TriScape100 can provide real-time video and snapshot imaging at less than 5m GSD from 500k to monitor infrastructure change, while the MultiScape100 provides data in seven spectral bands, ideal for vegetation change monitoring. Add the SpaceCloud Framework, and the possibilities become endless, from the in-time vehicle, ship and aircraft detection to volcanic activity, forest fires and oil spill detection.

The next step is to integrate the insight (tip) provided by the 6U medium resolution CubeSat to command the much larger high-resolution (cue) satellite through a software framework. For instance, one can achieve this through a common platform, like Amazon Web Services, and a set of open APIs. In such a framework, one is also not limited to a single EO provider or constellation but can theoretically access multiple open geospatial data sets.

Feel free to contact us to discuss how CubeSat Cameras and advanced unboard processing could enhance your next Earth Observation mission.