TopSat, the micro-satellite designed and built by a QinetiQ-led consortium of British firms, celebrated its 1,000th day in orbit this week – a significant milestone for a technology demonstrator built with a nominal one-year mission life.
TopSat has shown that a satellite built for a mission cost below £14m, a fraction of the cost of normal satellites, can successfully deliver high resolution images of the Earth quickly and efficiently. To date it has acquired more that 2,200 images for military and commercial customers and in support of disaster relief operations worldwide. A new image released today shows the Chuquicamata open pit mine in Chile which has produced more copper than any other mine in the world.
Dr David Williams, Director General of the British National Space Centre, said: "TopSat is a continuing UK success story built on a partnership between the Government and four leading British companies. It has demonstrated that the UK is at the forefront of innovative space technologies and their applications."
TopSat was launched from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Northern Russia on 27 October 2005. Originally funded by the British National Space Centre and the UK Ministry of Defence, it has been orbiting the earth at a height of 700km for the last 1,000 days.
Achieving this week's milestones sparked a celebration for the team behind TopSat – QinetiQ, Infoterra, STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL). Steven Austin, Head of QinetiQ's space business said: “Because TopSat is a demonstrator, it was only designed with a one-year lifespan. TopSat has now been in orbit for 1,000 days and is still fully operational, performing at its optimum level and providing high resolution images to a range of customers.”
TopSat can 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. Because of this speed of response, imagery from Topsat is extremely valuable to relief agencies responding to disasters and TopSat images are provided free of charge through the International Space and Major Disasters Charter. To date the micro-satellite has played a vital role in revealing the full extent of the destruction caused by landslides in North Korea in 2006, assessing the aftermath of last summer's forest fires in Greece, monitoring flooding in Mozambique and supporting UN disaster relief operations on the Rwandan / Congolese border following earthquakes earlier this year.
In the future, a constellation of three or four TopSat satellites could image almost any point on the Earth at least once a day, further opening up the potential for quick response imagery that is extremely cost effective to deliver.