ICEYE (SAR Microsatellite)
ICEYE (SAR Microsatellite)
The company ICEYE Ltd, a commercial satellite startup company of Espoo, Finland, is designing a constellation of SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) microsatellites that it anticipates will be more than 100 times less costly to produce than comparable larger spacecraft. ICEYE is a spinoff from the Aalto University Radio Science & Engineering department (Aalto-1 nanosatellite project), co-founded in 2014 by Rafal Modrzewski and Pekka Laurila. ICEYE plans to launch their first SAR microsatellite into space in early 2018 and, further down the road, create a swarm of satellites (more than 18) to take images all around the world. 1)
ICEYE is focused on expanding the availability of SAR data to support decision making in diverse areas such as trade, exploration, relief efforts, farming, and environmental protection.
ICEYE-X1 is ICEYE's initial proof-of-concept microsatellite mission using an X-band SAR sensor. The goal of the mission is to validate in-orbit performance of the satellite and begin operations with select ICEYE customers. Data received from the satellite in space can be used for a wide variety of use cases including monitoring changing sea ice for maritime and environmental uses, tracking marine oil spills and helping to prevent illegal fishing, to name a few examples.
In August 2016, ICEYE signed an agreement with Denver-based small satellite developer York Space Systems to conduct 21 launches for Iceye's commercial SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) satellite constellation. 2)
The platform of York Spave Systems (S-class) is a three-axis stabilized spacecraft, using reaction wheels and torque rods (with 25 arcsec pointing knowledge), capable of supporting various payloads up to 85 kg and 100 W of orbit average power. The size of the microsatellite in launch configuration is about 80 x 60 x 50 cm. A short duty cycle is used for the SAR instrument to conserve energy. The S-class platform has a mass of 65 kg and hosts payloads via a 57 x 57 cm mechanical mount with an available payload envelope height of 48 cm. The microsatellite is maneuverable providing slew rates of 1.5 º/s to quickly move from one observation target to the next.
The ICEYE team is exploiting the greatest possible use of COSTs (Commercial Off The Shelf) components in their satellites rather than the special, space-rated components found in conventional spacecraft.
Figure 2: COTS components significantly reduce the size of the package... and the cost (image credit: ICEYE)
RF communications are handled via S-band for housekeeping data downlink at 256 kbit/s and command uplink at 32 kbit/s while X-band is used for payload data downlink at a rate of 50 Mbit/s. The addition of a laser communications system will enable data downlink at speeds up to 1 Gbit/s.
Project development status:
• ICEYE completed four, separate, aerial SAR imaging campaigns throughout 2017, delivering data to customers and further developing the company's instrumentation. This step has been crucial in hardware and software cycles and has afforded the company a strong footing before heading to orbit. 3)
- During these campaigns ICEYE has imaged, processed and delivered data to multiple partners, and has taken many steps in maturing its commercial operations and technical compatibility with the users as a result.
- In 2017, ICEYE finalized significant partnerships with future customer industries and established aerospace organizations. This includes a vast network of ground station operators, established satellite data companies and other New Space hardware companies.
- The company's recent 2017 additional funding of more than $14 million moves ICEYE even closer to achieving their goal. More importantly, as 2017 comes to a close, ICEYE is shipping its first satellite, ICEYE- X1, for launch. This will be the world's first SAR instrument that has been miniaturized to a satellite under 100 kg. The ICEYE- X1 will be providing data to select commercial customers shortly after launch.
Figure 3: Example of airborne ICEYE imagery (image credit: ICEYE)
Launch: ICEYE-X1 was launched as a secondary payload on 12 January 2018 (03:59 UTC) on the PSLV-40 flight vehicle (XL configuration) of ISRO. The launch site was the SDSC (Satish Dhawan Space Center) SHAR (Sriharikota) on the east coast of India. The primary payload on this flight was CartoSat-2F (formerly CartoSat-2ER) of ISRO with a mass of 710 kg. 4) 5) 6)
Orbit: Sun-synchronous orbit with an altitude of 505 km and an inclination of 97.55º.
Throughout 2018, ICEYE has at least two additional proof-of-concept satellite missions planned to further develop and demonstrate the capabilities of the company's SAR technology. To mitigate the inherent risks associated with rocket launches and to verify specific provider capabilities, ICEYE has opted to launch its three initial missions each through different launch providers. ICEYE's next launch of a proof-of-concept satellite, ICEYE-X2, is currently indicated by the next launch's provider to occur during the summer of 2018.
The co-passenger satellites comprise one microsatellite and one nanosatellite from India as well as one minisatellite plus 2 microsatellites and 25 nanosatellites from six countries, namely, Canada, Finland, France, Republic of Korea, UK and USA. The total mass of all the 31 satellites carried onboard PSLV-C40 is about 1323 kg.
The 28 international customer satellites are being launched as part of the commercial arrangements between Antrix Corporation Limited (Antrix), a Government of India company under Department of Space (DOS), the commercial arm of ISRO and the International customers.
Out of the 31 satellites, 23 were integrated on the rocket (and subsequently successfully deployed into orbit) using the ISISpace' QuadPack CubeSat deployers and relied on the ISISpace sequencing electronics for the timely deployment. With the success of this campaign, ISIS (Innovative Solutions In Space) of Delft, The Netherlands, has reached a total of 256 satellites sent to space and 197 QuadPack doors successfully opened.
• TeleSat LEO Phase 1, a communications minisatellite mission (168 kg) of Telesat Canada, built by SSTL, Surrey, UK.
• Carbonite-2, a microsatellite (~100 kg) of SSTL (X50 platform) to demonstrate video performance for the future Earth-i Vivid-i constellation. Earth-i is located at Surrey Research Park, Guildford, UK.
• IITMSAT [IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) Madras Satellite], also referred to as INS-1C, a student built microsatellite (11 kg) to study the energy spectrum of charged particles in the upper ionosphere.
• Microsat of ISRO in the 100 kg class, that derives its heritage from IMS-1 bus. This is a technology demonstrator and the forerunner for future satellites of this series. The satellite bus is modular in design and can be fabricated and tested independently of payload. 7)
• PicSat, a 3U CubeSat (3.5 kg) of the Paris Observatory, France. PicSat is an astronomy mission to measure exoplanetary transits.
• CANYVAL-X, 1, 2, a technology demonstration CubeSat mission (1U and 2U CubeSats) of Korea's Yonsei University and KARI (Korea Aerospace Research Institute) in collaboration with NASA; the goal is to demonstrate a Vision Alignment System.
• CNUSail-1 (Chungnam National University Sail-1), a 3U CubeSat solar sail test of Chungnam National University, Korea (4 kg).
• KAUSAT-5 (Korea Aviation University Satellite), a 3U CubeSat (4 kg) to observe the Earth with an IR camera and measure the amount of radiation around LEO.
• SIGMA (Scientific cubesat with Instruments for Global magnetic field and rAdiation) or KHUSAT-3 (Kyung Hee University Satellite-3), a 3U CubeSat to measure the global magnetic field and radiation.
• STEP CubeLab (Space Technology Experimental Project CubeSat Laboratory), a 1U CubeSat of Chosun University, Gwangju, Korea. The objective is to exploit core space technologies researched by domestic universities and verify the effectiveness of these technologies through on-orbit tests using the CubeSat.
• ICEYE-X1, Finland's SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) microsatellite with a mas of <100 kg.
• CICERO-7, a 6U CubeSat (~10 kg) of GeoOptics, USA, built by Tyvak, to demonstrate radio occultation observations.
• Arkyd-6A, a 6U CubeSat of Planetary Resources Inc., USA (formerly Arkyd Astronautics) to test attitude control, power, and communication systems as well as a photo-display-and-retransmission system.
• Fox-1D, a radio amateur and technology research 1U CubeSat, developed by AMSAT, USA and hosting several university developed payloads (University of Iowa, Virginia Tech, and Pennsylvania State-Erie).
• Lemur-2 x 4, 3U CubeSats of Spire Global Inc., San Francisco, CA.
• Landmapper-BC3 (Corvus-BC3), a 6U CubeSat (10 kg) of Astro Digital (former Aquila Space), USA to provide multispectral imagery of 22 m resolution on a swath of 220 km.
• MicroMAS-2a, a 3U CubeSat mission (3.8 kg) of MIT/LL (Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Lincoln Laboratory) of Lexington, MA, USA. Test of a compact microwave spectrometer and radiometer payload in orbit.
• SpaceBEE x 4 picosatellites, built to 0.25 CubeSat form factor, a technology demonstration, USA
• Flock-3p x 4, 3U CubeSats of Planet, San Francisco, USA.
• Tyvak 61C, a 3U CubeSat and a technology demonstration and astronomy mission of Tyvak Inc., Irvine CA, USA.
• January 18, 2018: ICEYE has published the first radar image obtained with their ICEYE-X1 SAR satellite — the image depicts the Noatak National Preserve, Alaska, on Monday January 15, at 21:47 UTC (Figure 4). 8)
- ICEYE-X1 is the company's first satellite mission. Both the satellite bus and the SAR instrument were developed and integrated by ICEYE. ICEYE-X1 is a significant shift in size from traditional SAR satellites, allowing the technology to be condensed into a satellite with a mass of <100 kg. This in turn enables launching a constellation of many satellites rather than only a few.
- The full image transmitted to the ground from ICEYE-X1 exceeded 1.2 GB of raw data and spans an area of roughly 80 x 40 km on the ground. ICEYE-X1 obtained the image in the span of ten seconds, traveling at a speed of more than 7.5 km/s and at an altitude of 505 km. Matching what ICEYE simulated prior to the launch, the final data resolution from the first satellite reaches 10 x 10 meters.
- ICEYE-X1 has been successfully communicating with the ground since 05:20 UTC, January 12th, using both S- and X-band for transmission. Telemetry data exchanged with the satellite in the first 100 orbits has already reached more than 1GB, surpassing a critical milestone for the mission.
- Rafal Modrzewski, CEO and co-founder of ICEYE, said that with this single image, the ICEYE-X1 mission is already a full success regarding the firm's most important goals, but this is just the beginning. The company is now working to increase the range of incidence angles and to more than double the ground resolution for ICEYE-X2. with the next mission launching as soon as this summer.
- Pekka Laurila, CFO and co-founder of ICEYE, added that after the initial SAR instrument calibration is finished, the company will start operational pilot imaging services for the firm's first customers.
• January 12, 2018: ICEYE has successfully established communications with the 70 kg satellite at 05:20 GMT (07:20 Finland time) now in orbit, signaling the next step in the mission's success (Ref. 6).
• Cartosat-2F and 29 of the PSLV's secondary payloads separated from the PSLV in a 505 km sun-synchronous type orbit in the first 25 minutes of the mission. All satellites separated in 7 minutes (Ref. 4).
- The fourth stage of PSLV-C40 fired twice for short durations to achieve a polar orbit of 365 km height in which India's Microsat successfully separated.
Sensor complement (SAR sensor)
ICEYE developed its own SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) sensor technologies suitable for satellites under 100 kg in mass, making it one of the bigger payloads on the PSLV-C40 mission. The SAR sensor operates at a center frequency of 10.0 GHz and a transmit power of 2 to 4 kW with a pulse bandwidth of 15 MHz and a pulse repetition frequency of 6 kHz, covering a ground swath of around 200 km. One special feature of the system is its operation in circular polarization, intended to reduce the effect of rain and fog clutters. 9)
The ICEYE satellites have been baselined for a payload mass of 61 kg, comprising a deployable SAR antenna, front- and back-end electronics plus data processing systems. The SAR antenna consists of five elements, the central element being rigidly attached to the satellite body and two elements deploying to either side to create a 3.2 m wide antenna array.
Figure 5: Artist's view of ICEYE-X1 in orbit providing a resolution of 3 m (image credit: ICEYE)
1) "SAR for the New Space Era," ICEYE, URL:
2) "Vector Space Systems Announces 21 Launch Agreement with Iceye," PR Newswire, 2 August 2016, URL: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases
3) Pekka Laurila, "ICEYE—Smallsat SAR Imaging Expertise," SatMagazine 'Year in Review 2017: Part III, URL: http://www.satmagazine.com/story.php?number=895983867
4) "PSLV Successfully Launches 31 Satellites in a Single Flight," ISRO, 12 Jan. 2018, URL:
5) Stephen Clark, "India's PSLV lifts off on first flight since fairing failure," Spaceflight Now, 12 January 2018, URL: https://spaceflightnow.com/2018/01/12/pslv-c-40-coverage/
6) "ICEYE successfully launches world's first SAR microsatellite and establishes Finland's first commercial satellite operations," ICEYE Press Release, 12 Jan. 2018, URL:
8) " First Image Capture by ICEYE-X1 Released by ICEYE," Satnews Daily, 18 Jan. 2018, URL: http://www.satnews.com/story.php?number=1604779108#
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: "Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors" (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (email@example.com).