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ESA encourages S-band applications with NovaSAR-1 Announcement of Opportunity

23 Jan 2024

ESA is offering possibilities to develop new applications in the S-band microwave frequency range, with a new Announcement of Opportunity for NovaSAR-1 data, via ESA’s Third Party Mission programme.

NovaSAR-1 Satellite
NovaSAR-1 Satellite

The international scientific community may now order on demand, newly acquisitioned NovaSAR-1 data, for research and application development purposes, as well as prototype and test projects. Data are available upon submission of a Project Proposal, subject to evaluation and acceptance by ESA and the data owner, Airbus DS.

The remote sensing community benefits enormously from the commercial data available via ESA’s Third Party Mission (TPM) programme. There are currently over 60 instruments providing data from more than 50 TPMs and the data can be accessed for free for research and application development purposes.

ESA is steadily increasing its portfolio of TPMs and is currently considering several new candidate missions. Assessment of the quality and suitability of these candidate non-ESA Earth Observation (EO) missions is achieved with the Earthnet Data Assessment Project (EDAP+).

The S-band NovaSAR-1 mission is currently under evaluation via EDAP+. Launched on 16 September 2018, it is a small radar satellite developed in the UK, with the combined expertise of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) and Airbus. NovaSAR-1 offers a high data throughput of around one million squared km per day.

Sydney Harbour image from NovaSAR-1
Sydney Harbour image from NovaSAR-1

The primary objective of NovaSAR-1 is to make Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) observation missions more affordable and to expand applications in the S-band microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The S-band frequency is 3.2 GHz, corresponding to a wavelength of 9.4 cm, which is less common in space-borne SAR systems than the X-, C- or L-bands.

NovaSAR-1’s S-band SAR instrument offers a variety of modes with different resolutions and swath widths. ESA’s Announcement of Opportunity (AO) includes new acquisition data only, with a proposal submission deadline of 20 December 2024.

NovaSAR-1 new acquisition data are available in three baseline acquisition modes. Stripmap offers the highest resolution of 6 m, with up to 20 km swath and is available in single polarisation. ScanSAR has 20 m resolution and up to 100 km swath, but is available in a variety of polarisations, while ScanSAR Wide extends this to an area up to 190 km.

The mission has four viewing modes that are optimised for a wide range of applications, including flood monitoring, forest monitoring, land cover classification, disaster management and maritime applications, such as ship tracking and oil spill detection.

Agricultural monitoring in Kansas USA using NovaSAR-1
Agricultural monitoring in Kansas USA using NovaSAR-1

One key application area for NovaSAR-1 is agricultural monitoring. Operating at S-band, the NovaSAR-1 radar can penetrate further into the vegetation canopy than C- or X-band, facilitating tracking of plant structure and its underlying soil conditions.

The many available polarisations allow improved ability to distinguish between different crop types and the identification of crops at different growth stages. Wide area swaths support large assessment areas, while high resolution modes support detailed analysis of specific areas.

Expanding the variety of TPM data available with S-band SAR allows research user communities from different sectors to exploit the synergy between data sourced from a mixture of traditional ESA EO missions or other non-ESA missions.

During the period of this AO, ESA aims to support as many innovative projects as possible within the quota limit available, so only a limited number of products can be allowed for each project.

For support in submitting the proposal, consult this guide on how to access data requiring a project proposal.