An innovative earth-imaging camera that costs a fifth of the price of comparable units is to fly on Topsat (Tactical Optical Satellite), one of three new small satellite projects recently announced by science minister Lord Sainsbury.
The camera, developed at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, will produce highly detailed images. Black and white images will have 2.5m resolution and colour images 5m resolution.
Project manager Nigel Morris said: "It gives Britain an opportunity to demonstrate how its world-class technology can be used to make space imaging affordable for the user."
The main design challenges are to align the camera optics precisely and to develop a stable camera structure. A carbon-fibre reinforced polymer, which is strong, lightweight and will not expand when hot, will be used.
Education will be a main beneficiary with selected images on the web. Students will be able to compete for the opportunity to task the satellite themselves to produce specific data for optical imaging projects.
The 100kg Topsat microsatellite will be built by Surrey Satellite Technology, a spin-off company from Surrey University's Space Centre.
The programme will be managed by the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency.
The low-cost microsatellite is a further step towards the plan to have a constellation of optical satellites providing a window on the world. These will continuously monitor earth to aid farmers, monitor natural disasters and pollution, among other things.
The satellite, co-funded by the British National Space Centre and the Ministry of Defence, will be launched in early 2003.