Radar Scans Beamed To Earth Via Laser Can See Ships In Almost Real-Time

Radar Scans Beamed to Earth via Laser Can See Ships in Almost Real-Time

This grainy black-and-white image may not look like much, but it's a record-breaker. A radar scan acquired by satellite and beamed back to Earth by laser, it allowed the European Space Agency (ESA) to identify ships off the coast of Brazil in less than 18 minutes -- without any satellite ground stations nearby. That may sound like a long time, but it's actually the fastest time in which a radar scan has ever been acquired, sent back to Earth, and processed in order to detect ships in otherwise blind spots of the oceans. The scan was acquired by the ESA's Sentinel-1A satellite, then beamed to Oberpfaffenhofen and Neustrelitz in Germany. The processing of the images took 13 minutes, and the analysis a further five. The laser link is the crucial part: Without that, the satellite would have had to wait up to an hour or more to beam back the data to a ground station.

The space agency calls the technique quasi-realtime, because the time scales involved in gathering, transferring and processing the data are well within the demands that are required when scouring the oceans for ships. It's thought that the technique could be used to monitor oil spills or perhaps even spot piracy.


Image by ESA

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    Fastest by a civilian agency maybe. I know nothing about it, but I can't help thinking the US NRO's reaction is probably along the lines of "18min? That's cute. Good luck with your tiny blips."

      Not unless it's transmitting to a millsat communications satellite first. Other wise you need to wait to pass over a ground station before they can get the data.

      The other benefit is that for someone to intercept the signal, they have to be directly under it, unlike a radio signal which has a wide dispersal.

    RORSAT's have been a thing for several decades now..this is nothing new..even the capacity to send near real time data is an old trick. Maybe the new bit is just the laser? (PewPew..)

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