The first satellite in an international Earth-monitoring project, intended to monitor natural and manmade disasters such as forest fires, hurricanes and earthquakes around the globe, was launched yesterday (28 November) by Algeria from the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia.
The project, known as the Disaster-Monitoring Constellation (DMC), also involves China, Nigeria, Thailand, Turkey, Vietnam and the United Kingdom. Each plans to launch satellites in the same orbit within the next two years as part of the project.
The instruments on board 90-kg Algerian microsatellite, named AISAT-1, will be turned on gradually over the coming weeks, and the first images will be ready in just over a fortnight.
It was designed and constructed in the United Kingdom by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL), which is leading the DMC project, in collaboration with the Algerian Centre National des Techniques Spatiales (CNTS).
By 2003, the project aims to have another four spacecraft in orbit, funded by Nigeria, Turkey, the United Kingdom and Thailand. Another two, more advanced, satellites are to be launched by early 2004 in collaboration with China and Vietnam. Audrey Nice, publicity officer at SSTL, says that the aim is that the project will then continue with a "constant upgrading of the constellation" of satellites.
All the satellites in the project will be owned independently by national organisations in each country that are responsible for their development. However, whenever the United Nations declares a disaster, images from all the satellites will be freely available to Reuters Alertnet, an organisation that provides information to the international disaster relief community and the public.
Nice says that, “cloud permitting”, the satellites can take repeat images of the same location every 24 hours. "This information could help coordinate relief teams, for example, track the location of floods or identify where a road cannot be passed."
Current Earth observation satellites, which are required to cover much larger areas, offer only revisit a particular location relatively infrequently, and the delivery of critical information may take months. As a result, images of disaster-stricken areas often become available too late to be of use to relief co-ordination agencies.
"Algeria is proud to join the community of space-faring nations," says Azzedine Oussedik, CNTS director. "This project has trained Algerian specialists to bring the benefits of space to our nation and its people."
The microsatellites to be used in the project have been developed by SSTL to provide high quality images at a fraction of the normal cost.
Five of the remaining six satellites are being constructed at the SSTL in the United Kingdom. The other microsatellite is being built at the Mahanakorn University of Technology in Bangkok, Thailand.
Photo credit: SSTL