Global Sensing and Satellite Centre

Surrey and NPL are helping to pioneer a new era of Earth Observation. Big Data from Earth Observation satellites and in-situ sensors are forming part of the emerging Internet of Things and will play a crucial role in improving business productivity, reducing operating costs and improving the wellbeing of people and animals.

In response to a growing demand to understand the quality and provenance of data in the end user application, NPL and the University of Surrey have established the Global Sensing and Satellite Centre of Excellence (GloSS).

The centre carries out research and demonstrates data quality in a new era of Earth Observation information services in agriculture, future cities and maritime surveillance.

Both the University of Surrey and NPL are at the forefront of international research in this area. The University’s Surrey Space Centre (SSC) pioneered small low cost satellites and – through Surrey Satellite Technology Limited (originally a University-funded start-up, now part of Airbus Defence and Space) – has helped to launch over 40 space missions.

NPL has long supported the Earth Observation community by providing expertise in SI traceability (a globally agreed system of units), data uncertainty analysis, and verification services.

GloSS brings together the University’s expertise in low cost satellites and data processing, and NPL’s knowledge of metrology and sensor technologies.

The aim is to maximise the potential of Earth Observation technologies in industry by focusing on data quality, delivering quality assurance for users and capitalising on a huge growth area for the UK economy.

Collaborating with industry and academic partners, the initiative co-creates solutions that deliver economic and societal value for end-users. Some of the focus sectors where GloSS is currently working include:

Transport infrastructure for future cities

Efficient management of new and ageing transport infrastructure – in varying and sometimes hazardous environments – is required to meet increasingly stringent safety demands and the need for reliable performance.

The Transport Infrastructure Management (TIM) Service is planned as a new generation of asset monitoring services that can be deployed across multinational organisations.

The concept is based on the integration of location and mapping capabilities of space assets and ground local point sensor networks to deliver data and quality information in the most efficient manner.

Led by NPL, the GloSS team has assessed the suitability of a 25-year service to cover the Greater London area bounded by the M25 orbital motorway, including the roads, adjacent land, earthworks and structures.

It will deliver a long term, continuous monitoring of ground and structural surface displacement in 2D and 3D – in some cases down to centimetre level of information.

The large scale demonstration of the service for the whole of the London area is currently being discussed with the European Space Agency.

The project outputs have also been of interest to water companies, rail operators, heritage buildings and insurance companies, with a host of focused projects in these areas due to be delivered in 2016.

New crop information for farmers through sensor and satellite data innovation

Earth Observation data is already well-understood in the farming sector and used to support precision crop spraying, automation of large machinery and yield estimation.

As the farming sector faces reduced chemical resistance to pests and disease, low profit margins and new regulations banning the use of certain chemicals, the GloSS centre is interested in generating entirely new types of quality information to continue supporting farming intensification. 

Novel in-situ measurement sensors, such as those developed at NPL to measure hydration and sugar content of individual plants, can be used to validate new vegetation indices retrieved from satellite data, providing completely new insights into the status of a crop or supporting the decision to use automated machinery such as smart irrigation or robotic harvesting.

The GloSS centre is also beginning to develop miniature multi- and hyperspectral sensors for use by farmers either on Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or on board low cost satellites, the data from which could also aid crop and soil conditions in the future.

Surveillance of the maritime environment

In 2014, NPL and the University of Surrey were involved in an air based demonstration of SAR (synthetic aperture radar) technology over the English Channel.

A combination of innovation in multispectral imaging, data fusion and calibrated in-situ measurements helped to identify and distinguish oil spills in much finer detail than conventional methods achieve, reducing the cost of surveillance and response to future oil spill hazards and clean-up operations.

In future, new operational missions such as Sentinel-1 and NovaSAR, a UK satellite being built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd, will provide long term operational services to the Maritime Sector, based on the demonstration work carried out by NPL and Surrey.

The same SAR technology is also increasingly being used for ship detection and tracking, and illegal logging, owing to its unique ability to operate in the day or night, and to see through clouds.

Centre Head

Robert Elliott (NPL)

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