This week three satellites will join a fourth already in orbit to form a novel fleet of spacecraft that aims to provide daily images of any point on Earth. The plan is for this information to be used by relief organisations in the event of hurricanes, floods or volcanic eruptions.
In this article, Daniel Clery explains what is unusual about this 'Disaster Monitoring Constellation'. For a start, no major space agency has had a hand in its creation. Rather, the satellites were built by the UK-based university start-up company Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL), and are owned by the United Kingdom, Turkey, Algeria and Nigeria.
For the latter two nations, the project marks their first foray into space. SSTL makes almost all its satellites for export, using off-the-shelf components to keep costs down. The result is a low-cost entry to space for developing nations.
Reference: Science 301, 1829 (2003)