This video illustrates new research from the University of Leicester’s Department of Physics and Astronomy who are trialling a concept using satellite technology already in orbit to take images of sea which could significantly reduce search areas for missing boats and planes.
The animations show the ground tracks of the satellites identified that could take images of the sea as part of this concept as they orbit the Earth.
Each of the satellites carry a camera which can take images of objects on the ocean surface.
From Leicester University
New satellite imaging concept proposed by University of Leicester-led team could significantly reduce search areas for missing boats and planes
- Concept uses satellite technology already in orbit to take images of sea
- Enables ship and plane movement to be pinpointed to much more accuracy
- Data can be used when vessels are lost at sea to minimise search area and speed up search and rescue time
- Could have been used to aid search for missing Malaysian flight MH370
A preliminary study published this month in the International Journal of Remote Sensing, identified 54 satellites with 85 sensors, currently only taking images of land, which could be used to take images of the Earth’s oceans and inland waters.
The research team believe regularly updated images of the seas via these satellites could enable the reduction of search areas for missing ships to just a few hundred square miles.
This offers the possibility of dramatically reducing search and rescue times and significantly improving chances of survival for missing ships.
Dr Nigel Bannister from the University’s department of Physics and Astronomy explained: “If you are in the open ocean, and you get into difficulty, particularly in a small vessel, there is a significant chance that you will be lost at sea. There is currently a big problem tracking small vessel maritime traffic and this system could provide a much improved awareness of vessel movements across the globe, using technology that already exists."
“This isn’t a surveillance system that monitors vessel movements across the oceans in real time, like radar tracking of aircraft in the sky; instead we have proposed a system which records images every time a satellite passes over specific points of the sea. If we are alerted to a lost vessel, the images allow us to pinpoint its last observed position. This could be very powerful for constraining search areas and it could reduce the time it takes to locate missing boats and planes, and hopefully their crews and passengers.”
David Neyland, former Assistant Director of the US Navy Office of Naval Research-Global, who funded the research, added: “The University of Leicester brought to this research a unique capability to build a public, open source model, of an International Virtual Constellation of spacecraft from 19 nations – a transparent view of space operations never done before.
“Dr Bannister’s critical knowledge and enthusiasm are a driving force to make space-based maritime domain awareness a reality. The University of Leicester’s research is a watershed event encouraging international satellite owners and operators to collect and share open ocean imagery for the common good of enhancing safety of life at sea. The case of the missing Malaysian flight MH370 demonstrates how easy it is to lose a large object, even with today’s technology.”
The team is now testing the concept, working on the automated detection of vessels within imagery provided from the NigeriaSat 2 and UK-DMC2 satellites by DMC International Imaging, and in cooperation with the New Zealand Defence Technology Agency, with the ultimate goal to develop a practical system based on the concept.
It is hoped that this system will be active as a maritime monitoring system in a few years’ time as it exploits satellites and technologies which already exist.
- International Journal of Remote Sensing : study