Commercial CubeSat optical payload: Unprecedented resolution, detail and quality

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A brief look at the possibilities of a 10cm x 10cm x 30cm 3U CubeSat from an earth observation point of view.

The standard-setting CubeSat was first developed at the California Polytechnic State University in 1999. Since then, various prominent satellite manufacturers have seen its potential to provide university students with remote access to space. But launch providers saw the addition of small satellites to their large rockets as arisk to their paying customers. We do not believe this to be the case and here’s why.

Commercial satellites tend to be extremely large due to the demanding nature of their tasks. Earth observation satellites require huge cameras to capture the earth in meticulous detail. Additionally, both their aim and movement relative to the target of investigation need to be as accurate as possible. At ultra-high resolutions across multiple spectral bands, this results in a tremendous amount of data that needs to be transmitted back to earth.

As you can imagine, this severely increases the cost and, in turn, the financial risk associated with any failures. To reduce this risk, redundant systems are used, only the highest-grade components are selected, system testing is stretched to the limits, and the lifetime of the satellite is maximized. This results in years of development that costs billions of dollars.

In stark contrast, CubeSats are cheap and utilize commercial off-the-shelf components with limited redundancy. Testing, in most cases, is limited to what’s required for a safe mission. We are now in a situation where multiple companies are exploiting the commercial benefits of CubeSats.

The Simera Sense optical payload is embedded with an Attitude Determination and Control System (ADCS) from CubeSpace. It is a great example of what can be achieved with CubeSats. It uses precision engineering techniques to build a remote sensing payload with the ability to capture the earth in greater detail, depth and a wider range of spectral bands. Combine this with its exceptional stability and aiming capabilities (optimized for a 10cm x 10cm x 20cm 2U volume), this design is perfect for missions requiring daily coverage of the globe.

With this project, Simera Sense is making commercial remote sensing possible at a fraction of the cost. This allows geospatial solutions providers to quickly and reliably build and scale remote sensing missions. With a swarm of these satellites, it is now possible to obtain daily images of the earth at an affordable price.

Various remote sensing CubeSat operators have shown that sub-5m Ground Sampling Distances (GSD) is possible, such as the Dove constellation of Planet Labs.

To achieve this spatial resolution, the optical design needs to take full advantage of the 100mm x 100mm area on the side of the satellite for the optical front-end aperture. The Simera Sense optical designers have pushed the limits to create an F6.2 optical system that delivers a true 5m GSD at a 500km orbit altitude.

Remote sensing specialists need to view spectral bands that standard RGB sensors aren’t able to capture. They require spectral bands in-line with their knowledge that are optimized for their applications, similar to Landsat and Sentinel-2 bands. Apart from a 154-channel hyperspectral sensor, Simera Sense has the option of a 7 band multi-spectral TDI stage sensor, which is ideal for cross-sensor consistency. This 256-stage TDI sensor allows signal-to-noise characteristic and radiometric performance enhancement beyond what CubeSats were able to deliver in the past.

With Industry 4.0 capabilities, Simera Sense will produce these payloads at scale and build reliability into the production process to ensure cost-effectiveness. With consistent and meticulous calibration between imagers, the end-users will always receive infallible data. Furthermore, the embedded ADCS also reduces the risk of miscalculations by the satellite integration team that may occur during calibration.

Are you curious on how we can assist you to develop an unprecedented payload for your next CubeSat mission? Simera Sense invites you to explore our exciting payload offerings.

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