Creation of satellites to monitor the oceans being planned


Researchers from Oporto, Vigo and Norway are participating in a project to create micro and Nano satellites for monitoring the oceans, transporting information between different locations and also reading radio signals from ships.

“The question of oceanography is very important today because Portugal can have about four million square kilometers in the Atlantic Ocean, where 65% of the traffic that goes into and out of Europe will pass”, he told Lusa. Department of Physics of the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto (FCUP), Orfeu Bertolami.

In order to control this area, “Portugal needs to have means, associating, in the future, with traditional methods (ships and launches, among others), unmanned automated instruments”, such as those developed at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto (FEUP), an institution fully involved in this project.

Thus, in a first phase, the researchers’ work was to harmonize the communication protocols of these same vehicles created in FEUP with the small satellites developed in Vigo so that they could exchange information.

The team also intends to study, “among many other hypotheses”, the adaptation to these small satellites of an instrument that allows to collect images at different wavelengths, considering this “a very important leap” in this area, explained the director.

In addition, another of the objectives of this project, which gave rise to the article “Small satellites for oceanography: a research”, is to bring together a group of people capable of developing this type of technology, preferably in a university environment, where one can find scholars of different areas.

Thus, according to Orfeu Bertolami, since the 1990s satellites known as cubes have been built, with around ten cubic centimeters, which have a modular structure and can be standardized.

There is also a “growth” of operations with small satellites, driven mainly by “an academic and pedagogical need, but which has more recently demonstrated its feasibility for more ambitious operations”.

“These operations have leverage and demonstrated the need to develop Earth observation sensors, which includes monitoring, communication and engineering testing, and there are no substantial applications to the ocean sciences to date”, he added.

According to those responsible for the project, the time has come for micro- and Nano satellites (with a mass of less than ten kilograms and two to three years of development), designed, constructed and tested for oceanographic observation.

A satellite consists mainly of a body and scientific instruments: “When these platforms are very small, there is little availability – especially energy – to contain batteries, instrumentation or heavy stabilization wheels that allow the satellites to be controlled”, he explained.

Solar energy, “the only source of constant energy in the space next to the Earth,” is converted into electricity for the instruments through solar panels, energy that is proportional to the area and time of exposure. “Few areas mean little energy”, he said.

For the researcher, these limitations mean that existing platforms are currently restricted in their ability to carry more instrumentation than a camera.
The objective of the director of the Department of Physics, besides being able to construct this type of satellites in the FCUP, in the period of 18 months, is to operationalize some of these equipment’s. In the long run, it also plans to produce and operate a constellation of small satellites.

Also, participating in this project are researchers André Guerra and Frederico Francisco, both from FCUP, Jaime Villate from FEUP, Fernando Aguado Agelet from the School of Telecommunication Engineering at the University of Vigo (Spain), and Kanna Rajan from the University of Science and Technology of Norway (Trondheim).