23 May 2016

In the context of the National Space Program of the Argentine National Space Activities Commission (CONAE, in Spanish) in cooperation with the Italian Space Agency (ASI, in Italian), INVAP S.E. (an Argentine state-owned applied research company) has been developing the SAOCOM 1 and 2, the earth observation satellites that will be part of the Italian-Argentine System of Satellites for Emergency Management (SIASGE, in Spanish).

saocom1a-2016The aim of these satellites, which were specifically designed to prevent, monitor, mitigate and assess natural and anthropogenic disasters, is to measure soil moisture values to be used in emergencies, such as detection of hydrocarbon spills in the seas and the follow-up of water during floods.

The SIASGE mission includes two constellations of satellites —one of them comprises the Argentine SAOCOM satellites and the other the Italian COSMO SkyMed satellites— that will be put into a polar sun synchronous orbit (6.12 a.m LTAN) 619.6 km above the earth's surface. This orbit allows to provide global cartographic services of the earth and to keep the satellites' solar panels pointing to the Sun almost always. Thus, by combining the capabilities of both constellations, images of any disaster could be captured anywhere on the planet and be updated every 12 hours.
bannersaocomINVAP has been developing the SAOCOM 1 and SAOCOM 2 constellations, made up of two satellites each: SAOCOM 1A and 1B, and SAOCOM 2A and 2B. The first two satellites are in their integration and testing stage at INVAP’s headquarters in San Carlos de Bariloche. Each satellite weighs 3 tonnes and is 4.5 meters high, with a diameter of 1.5 meters. The radar deployable antenna (Synthetic Aperture Radar or SAR) is 10 meters long and 3.5 meters wide. Both satellites have the same requirements concerning design, functionality and effectiveness, so that they are being developed, assembled and tested simultaneously in order to have two identical satellites that will be launched about one year apart.

This satellite series involves the development of active instruments that operate in the range of the microwaves. The main goals of the SAOCOM 1 mission correspond to the capabilities of the SAR instrument:

  • To provide the information of the polarimetric SAR, which operates in the range of the L-band, regardless of meteorological conditions, the time of day, and the different areas of the earth; in real time and in storage mode, with a space resolution ranging between 10 and 100 meters and with different viewing angles.
  • To meet the needs of the applications considered in the Space Information Cycles (CIE, in Spanish) and the Argentine National Space Program (PEN, in Spanish).
  • To achieve the operational integration of the SIASGE (the Italian-Argentine System of Satellites for Emergency Management).
  • To develop specific products by using the SAR information, particularly soil moisture maps, which contribute to the agriculture, hydrology and health fields. Besides, taking advantage of the interferometry, information about ground displacements can be obtained, which is useful for a variety of applications.

Argentine National Space Activities Commission

The SAOCOM mission
State-of-the-art technology to manage the planet’s environmental emergencies and provide satellite information for the benefit of Argentinians.
The SAOCOM mission consists of putting into orbit two constellations, SAOCOM 1 and SAOCOM 2, the second series of which will incorporate certain technological advances resulting from the experience of the first. Each constellation is composed of two satellites, called A and B respectively, which are basically similar, due to the need to obtain an adequate revisit of the monitored Earth surface.
The SAOCOM satellites, together with four satellites of the Italian Constellation COSMO-SkyMed, belonging to the Italian Space Agency (ASI, in Italian), make up the Italian-Argentine Satellite System for Emergency Management (SIASGE, in Spanish), created by the National Commission for Space Activities (CONAE, in Spanish) and ASI for the benefit of society, emergency management and economic development.

An example of a collective construction
The Argentine Microwave Observation Satellite SAOCOM 1A has been designed, produced, tested and operated by Argentinians within the framework of the National Space Plan. The mission will bring into space a complex Earth observation technology and is one of the most challenging technological projects ever developed in the country.
The SAOCOM mission is led by the National Commission for Space Activities (CONAE), which appointed INVAP as the main contractor for the design, manufacture, integration and testing of the satellites. CONAE remains responsible for the design, manufacture, integration and testing of the main instrument, the Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), as well as for the operation and distribution of the images generated.
In addition to CONAE and INVAP, more than 100 technology-based and conventional companies have participated in it. Together with numerous institutions conforming the country’s science and technology system, they contributed their knowledge, experience and efforts to ensure the success of this mission.
The development of the satellite’s solar panels, needed to convert sunlight into electrical energy for the operation of SAOCOM 1A, was a joint effort between INVAP, in charge of the design and manufacture of the structure and deployment mechanisms, and the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA in Spanish), which designed and integrated the solar cells and the interconnection system of the three panels.
In addition to being responsible for the mission and the instrument, CONAE was in charge of providing the radar antenna, for which CNEA was commissioned to design and manufacture the structure and mechanisms, INVAP manufactured the wiring and thermal blankets, while the integration and testing were performed by CONAE in conjunction with the companies VENG, STI and DTA.
•    80 Argentine technology-based companies
•    3,500,000 man-hours = 2,500,000 INVAP + 1,000,000 other institutions/companies

Highest performance
The SAOCOM 1A will become the SAR satellite in L-band with the highest performance that exists on the planet at the time; for this reason, it has aroused much interest in the international scientific community to make use of the data it will generate.
The sensors of the satellite’s radar antenna are able to capture data both day and night. The radar also stands out for its possibility of “seeing” through clouds since the frequency used by the microwave signal passes through them; thus, unlike optical instruments, the radar can capture data in any weather condition.
One of the main objectives of the SAOCOM satellites is the measurement of soil moisture, and the L-band used can penetrate through the surface up to 2 m deep depending on the type of soil. Soil moisture maps will be obtained mainly for an area of interest of about 83 million hectares in the Argentine Pampean region.
The SAOCOM 1A will have a great impact on the country’s productive sector and will be key to preventing and mitigating environmental disasters. It will provide accurate information for agriculture, forestry, hydrology, oceanography, natural and man-made disaster management, environment, cartography, geology, mining, oil exploitation, and health.

SAOCOM Earth Observation Satellite

  • Instrument: Polarimetric L-band SAR    
  • Weight: 3,000 kg
  • General dimensions: 4.7 m high x 1.2 m diameter    
  • Deployed antenna dimensions: 35 m2
  • Lifespan: 5,5 years    
  • Orbit: Heliosynchronous
  • Height: 620 km    
  • Sweeping width: 20 to 350 km
  • Space resolution: 10 to 100 m    
  • Revisiting period: 16 days (for one satellite), 8 days (for the whole constellation)
  • Launcher: Space X’s Falcon 9
  • Launching date/place: October 6th / Vandenberg, USA

Launcher: Falcon 9
The SAOCOM 1A will be launched on a Space X’s Falcon 9 vehicle from the U.S. Air Force base in Vandenberg, California, USA.
Space X (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) is a U.S. aerospace transport company founded in 2002 by Elon Musk.  The SOACOM 1A will use the Falcon 9 launcher, a two-stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen (LOX) and dense rocket kerosene (RP-1), manufactured by Space X. The first stage is capable of landing for reuse, either by returning to land or on a barge.

Satellite uses
This mission will bring into space a complex Earth observation technology that will make it possible to prevent, monitor, mitigate and evaluate natural or anthropogenic catastrophes for agricultural purposes such as soil moisture, vegetation indexes and pest control; hydrological, coastal and oceanic uses; applications in snow, ice and glaciers; employment in urban, security and defense studies, among other areas of productive interest.
The mission will have a great positive impact on the socioeconomic system, since it can be used in several productive industries, such as mining, fishing, oil and energy.
At the same time, the SAOCOM 1A will contribute to the objective of a climate action for a sustainable development by generating information to improve the capacity to adapt to risks related to climatic conditions and natural disasters.

Some applications
• Generate soil moisture maps, with spatial resolution and coverage area available for the first time in Argentina and the world, so as to identify areas at risk of flooding and give the corresponding early warnings;
• Detect very dry soils with fire risk;
• Produce risk maps of crop diseases;
• Evaluate scenarios in sowing and fertilization decision making;
• Know the amount of water available in wet snow for irrigation;
• Obtain glacier displacement maps;
• Draw terrain displacement maps and maps of slopes and heights;
• Detect changes in infrastructure;
• Carry out ship monitoring.

Flight settings
Twelve minutes after its take-off the SAOCOM 1A is expected to be released in an orbit very close to the final one. After one minute, the satellite transmitters will be switched on, allowing the reception of telemetry signals to verify its status; and two minutes later, the solar panel will be deployed, permitting the satellite to prepare for its start-up phase.
Both in the release phase and in the following start-up operations, which will last several days, contact with the satellite will be maintained by means of several Earth stations communicating directly with the Argentine Earth stations of Falda del Carmen (Córdoba) and the remote station of Tolhuin (Tierra del Fuego), both of CONAE. There, the reception, processing, publication and storage of the satellite information generated by different Earth observation satellites will take place.