In February 2019, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt – FFI) entrusted Safran Reosc, subsidiary of Safran Electronics & Defense and global leader in optics for astronomy and space applications, with developing a miniature space camera for its NORSAT-4 nanosatellite, intended to conduct surveillance on ships in the Arctic circle.
Why conduct surveillance on the Arctic circle from space?
With five neighbouring countries (USA, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia), the Arctic circle is a strategic location that is highly coveted for its economic interests (fishery resources, land use and sea traffic routes). Seeking to preserve the sovereign status of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) which stretches from the North Sea to the Barents Sea, in 2010 Norway embarked on space programme using nanosatellites with ever higher levels of performance. After using AIS (Automatic Identification System) signal monitoring satellites, Norway opted for optical detection to conduct surveillance from space of marine activities in this sensitive area.
To develop the camera for its future NORSAT-4 nanosatellite, the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) decided to engage Safran Reosc. As a globally-recognized expert in optics for astronomy and space applications, under this agreement Safran Reosc will have to design the whole camera from scratch, including the optics, image sensor and thermal control.
The challenge of miniaturization
As the final nanosatellite must not exceed 20 kg in weight, the principal challenge for this project is the ability to miniaturise the technologies without impairing performance. To this end, Safran Reosc proposes a camera with an especially high-performance SWaP* factor: a mass of 8 kg and a volume of 8 litres, along with a power requirement of just 30 Watts. Weighing in at 20 kg, NORSAT-4 will exhibit similar characteristics to our 1.7 tonne SPOT-1 (the first Earth observation satellite system developed by CNES), launched over 30 years ago. By way of comparison, we could say that "Norsat-4 is like getting Spot-1 to fit in a shoe box."
Small but powerful, the camera will be in a low Earth orbit at approximately 600 km altitude, enabling it to detect ships across a wide viewing range and retransmit highly precise images despite the low light levels around the North pole.
This project enables Safran Reosc to step into New Space. New Space was born through the adoption of the low-cost approach in the space industry, using constellations of small, low-cost satellites. This revolution has opened up space to new players, in the majority private initiatives, and has fostered growth in the field of application of space technologies.
On this project, Safran Reosc will work hand in hand with UTIAS/SFL, satellite builder at the University of Toronto, specialist in nanosatellites and New Space, engaged by FFI for the NORSAT-4 platform development.
Given the impetus of this project, Safran Reosc also decided to develop a range of cameras for class 8-16 U micro and nanosatellites, named SEEING for Small satEllite for Earth imagING, considering that its cameras could be an economic benchmark for the benefit of the whole community.
Faithful to its origins and resolutely oriented towards innovation, for over 80 years Safran Reosc has consistently pushed back the limits of knowledge to serve astronomy and the space industry.