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Earth observation is the collection of data using remote sensing techniques regarding the physical, chemical, and biological processes of planet Earth. Typically, this involves satellites with imaging equipment. Earth observation is employed to track and evaluate changes in both the natural and built environments as well as their state. When paired with suitable method development and study, space-based technologies give repeatable and reliable datasets that offer a new way to learn more about the planet. Examples include the ability to swiftly analyze situations during crises like extreme weather occurrences or times of inter-human conflict as well as the monitoring of the condition and development of our environment, whether it be on land, at sea, or in the air.

In the event of large disasters, Earth observation satellites already significantly contribute to aiding first responders’ actions. The fundamental idea is the coordinated employment of satellites to ensure a quick response and the quick supply of images and geospatial data of the impacted area.

Skimsats, a unique class of spacecraft that Qinetiq and Thales Alenia Space are researching, could significantly lower the cost of Earth monitoring. The development of a demo for Skimsat, which is a small satellite platform intended to function in very low Earth orbit (VLEO), has been given funding, according to an announcement from the European Space Agency. The European company Thales Alenia Space announced on July 19 that it had received $2.4 million (€2.3 million) in financing from the ESA to improve the design of a satellite that can function in orbits under 300 kilometers.

The financing consists of a study contract for €800,000 for a prototype that would employ electrical propulsion to counteract air resistance at these low altitudes, promising higher resolutions for Earth observation operations. In order to provide the platform with altitude and orbit control systems (AOCS), along with other features, the company obtained the funds in collaboration with QinetiQ, which is a British aerospace corporation.

The choice of payloads for a potential Skimsat mission is part of their 12-month study, which is being coordinated by the Belgian and British branches of QinetiQ. Nigel Towers, who is the sales strategy and marketing head for Thales Alenia Space in the United Kingdom, did not provide a probable launch date for Skimsat but stated that the research contract allows the firms to establish the mission and platform design.

The study funding was granted through ESA’s Discovery Preparation and Technology Development (DPTD) activities, and Towers stated through email that Skimsat had gained approval for €1.5 million  “for pre-developments.” As per Andrew Stanniland, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Thales Alenia Space in the U.K., Skimsat “stands to totally transform the market for Earth observation.”

According to a statement from Stanniland, Skimsat challenges “the usual utilization of high altitudes that prevent air resistance” and will provide a “new business model for high-resolution imaging” using more reasonably priced satellites. As part of the platform’s participation in the Quantum Accelerometer Climate Explorer (Q-ACE) project, Thales Alenia Space previously obtained funding for Skimsat from the British government.

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