First images from British NovaSAR satellite

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The Great Pyramids and Sydney Harbour at night have been captured in the debut images released by the first all-British radar satellite.

Launched into orbit in September, the NovaSAR spacecraft can take pictures of the Earth’s surface in all weather conditions including heavy cloud, day or night.

The satellite, which looks a little like a cheese grater, has diverse applications such as ocean surveillance, oil spill detection, flood and forestry monitoring, disaster response and crop assessment.

Pyramids at night
The Red and Bent Pyramids in Dahshur captured by the satellite at night (SSTL/PA)

Backed by a £21 million Government investment, it was developed by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (SSTL) of Guildford in collaboration with Airbus in Portsmouth. Its first images were released on Friday.

Some of the pictures were taken over Sydney Harbour at night, capturing the famous bridge as well as boats crossing the water or moored nearby.

An image of Cairo shows the River Nile flowing from Upper Egypt towards Beni Suef, with cultivation along the river and the non-irrigated desert areas distinguishable, while the Great Pyramids of Giza also stand out.

Science and education minister Sam Gyimah visited SSTL on Friday to tour the satellite assembly and operations facilities and view the new images from NovaSAR.

“Yet again we can see UK research and innovation that is truly out of this world,” he said.

“This ‘eye in the sky’ can capture an image a dozen times wider than the Strait of Dover and the data it provides can help crack problems from illegal shipping to alerting us to damaging pollution that needs to be countered.”

SSTL’s director of earth observation Andrew Cawthorne said the team is “delighted” with the first images, adding the craft will continue to gather test images before it starts delivering services to partners in the near future.

“Over the coming weeks our spacecraft operators will continue to test the capabilities of the spacecraft as we task the satellite to image locations around the world,” he said.

A number of global agencies will partner with the NovaSAR, including the UK Space Agency, Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and the Indian Space Research Organisation.

The radar satellite technology is a powerful tool for monitoring the Earth from space because it can see through clouds and monitor at any time of day or night.

This enables the craft to spot illegal logging in high cloud-covered forests, such as the Amazon, and track suspicious shipping activity such as smuggling.

A constellation of three NovaSAR satellites could image any point on the globe, every day, regardless of local time or weather, SSTL said.

Chris Price