NEWS2 September 2022

SSTL signs contract for unique maritime surveillance satellite

On the 25th of August 2022 Space Norway AS signed contracts with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) to build a radar satellite system optimised for maritime surveillance in Norwegian areas of interest. The payloads will be developed and built by Norwegian suppliers, while the satellite bus and the radar antenna will be built in the UK by SSTL, based at Surrey Research Park.

The first satellite will be launched early 2025. In the following years, the plan is to launch a number of radar satellites to establish a constellation. The satellite system named MicroSAR is unique in the way it can detect relatively small vessels in a very large area simultaneously. Currently no other radar satellite systems with the same mix of capabilities exists.

Norway’s sea areas are seven times larger than the Norwegian land area. The Arctic and the High North is Norway’s most important strategic area of interest. This puts strong requirements on situational awareness in these areas. AIS (Automatic Identification System) has for many years been used for maritime surveillance. The challenge is that AIS is a system that requires the vessels themselves to send the required and correct AIS Information. Hence, AIS is a system based on cooperation. It is estimated that 5 % of the vessels either does not send out AIS Information or are transmitting false information. Satellites with a radar, such as MicroSAR, will be able to detect these vessels independent of the use of AIS. MicroSAR satellites will bring an AIS Receiver to correlate radar detections with AIS Information.

The MicroSAR System is optimized for covering Norwegian needs. However, it will also offer and deliver maritime surveillance services in a global market in the same way as other radar satellites in space today, including surveillance of ship traffic, combating illegal fishing, search and rescue and oil spill detection.

The Satellite System will be owned and controlled by Space Norway. This gives Norway an important strategic independent capability under national control to cover their needs for maritime surveillance. Space Norway has signed contracts with the following vendors to build the first MicroSAR Satellite: Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) is a UK company with long experience in building satellites. SSTL will deliver the satellite platform and be responsible for integration of the payloads on board. SSTL will also be responsible for building the radar antenna through their sub-contractor Oxford Space Systems (OSS).

For SSTL this builds on its experience in designing and operating small radar missions which was gained from the NovaSAR-1 spacecraft, a mission strongly supported by the UK Space Agency, which was put into operations in 2018 and continues to serve five major customers around the world. SSTL and OSS have also been working on small radar mission products, and OSS recently announced its wrapped rib SAR antenna also developed with UK government support.