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This image of circles of green irrigated vegetation in Saudi Arabia was captured by TopSat, a micro-satellite built and operated by a QinetiQ-led consortium of British firms. The circular fields, which are up to 3km in diameter, are supported by Central Pivot Irrigation. Fossil water is mined from ancient rivers at depths as great as 1km, pumped to the surface and distributed via large centre pivot irrigation feeds.
Saudi Arabia is fast approaching self sufficiency in agriculture having implemented a programme to provide vast supplies of water. Land under cultivation has risen from 400,000 acres in 1976 to more than 8 million acres today.
TopSat is a micro-satellite system that provides high resolution imaging of the Earth quickly and at low cost. The satellite is 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 than standard satellites. The system is specifically designed to meet operational timescales, whether for disaster relief, news-gathering, or other applications where speed of response is vital.
The UK consortium behind TopSat was formed and is led by QinetiQ, an international defence and security technology company who own the satellite and are responsible for day-to-day operations. It also includes CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory who designed and built the camera, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) who built the spacecraft bus and Infoterra who are responsible for data exploitation. The programme, originally funded by the British National Space Centre (BNSC) and the UK Ministry of Defence, is now a commercial venture.