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ESA HydroGNSS Scout – A Small Satellite Mission Sensing Climate Variables using GNSS Reflectometry

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How satellite navigation signal reflections can be used to help monitor the water cycle of the planet.

SSTL , part of the Airbus group, is a UK spin-off company from the University of Surrey, that designs, manufactures and operates small satellites. Amongst its activities, it builds optical, thermal and radar imaging satellites, and is currently manufacturing the Lunar Pathfinder mission offering communications links for lunar assets. Another SSTL project is the ESA HydroGNSS Scout mission which comprises of two small satellites that will measure climate variables using satellite navigation signal reflections. GNSS microwave signals are continually being broadcast towards the Earth from over 100 satellites in high orbits, and are used for all kinds of navigation, including military, marine, aircraft, automotive and mobile phone use. Although these signals are very weak, they reflect off the Earth’s surface and can be detected by spacecraft in low Earth orbit and used as radar sources for sensing geophysical properties of the Earth. HydroGNSS plans to use these reflections to measure soil moisture, inundation, freeze/thaw, and biomass, with secondary measurements of ocean wind speed and sea ice extent, all parameters important to sensing of our climate.

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