TopSat, the micro-satellite designed and built by a QinetiQ-led consortium of British firms captured this image of The Boneyard in the Sonora Desert just outside Tucson, Arizona, USA.
Reproduced images should include the credit: "Courtesy of the TopSat Consortium, copyright QinetiQ".The Boneyard is the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Centre (AMARC) adjoining the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base where the US military mothballs its aircraft until they either need them again or it is time to salvage them for parts. Many of the 4,200 planes currently stored at The Boneyard will become instructional aircraft, targets on military ranges, or museum exhibits so all aircraft undergo a continual process of anti-corrosion and re-preservation work whilst in storage. But most are used for spare parts and are eventually smelted down into ingots by nearby metal processing works.The image was acquired in August 2006 by TopSat, a micro-satellite system conceived to provide high resolution imaging of the Earth at low cost. A key feature of the TopSat programme is the fact that the satellite was designed to return its data directly to a mobile ground station immediately after collecting an image, allowing far more timely delivery of the information which it collects. The name TopSat is derived from Tactical Optical Satellite, and further emphasises the fact the system is specifically designed to meet operational timescales, whether for disaster relief, news-gathering, or military operations. TopSat was designed and built by a consortium of British companies led by QinetiQ, whose role included systems design and technical authority, provision of payload electronics units, operations management and the data reception element of the ground segment. Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) developed and manufactured the satellite platform and was responsible for the integration of the payload testing, arranging the launch at Cosmos, and commissioning the satellite platform in orbit through their satellite control station. Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) designed and manufactured the satellite’s sophisticated off-axis camera and Infoterra is marketing TopSat image products, having processed the data to recognised ortho- and geo-rectification standards. The 5-year TopSat programme was jointly funded by the British National Space Centre (BNSC) and the UK Ministry of Defence at a mission cost below Â£14m. The satellite was successfully launched into a 700 km sunsynchronous orbit from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Northern Russia on 27 October 2005 using a Cosmos launch vehicle.TopSat weighs just 120 kg, but carries an optical camera capable of delivering panchromatic images with a spatial resolution at nadir of 2.8 metres covering a 17x17 km area, and simultaneous three-band multi-spectral images, (red, green, blue), with a resolution of 5.6 metres. This is thought to represent the best resolution per mass of any satellite launched to date. This camera is integrated with an agile micro-satellite platform to permit pitch compensation manoeuvres, allowing imaging of low illumination scenes. In the future, a constellation of three or four TopSat satellites could image almost any point on the Earth at least once a day, subject to cloud conditions, further opening up the potential for quick response imagery which is extremely cost effective to deliver.
Author: David Bishop
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