DISCOVERER: Radical Redesign of Earth Observation Satellites for Sustained Operation at Significantly Lower Altitudes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review

  • External authors:
  • Vitor Toshiyuki Abrao Oiko
  • Alejandro Macario Rojas
  • Katharine Smith
  • Jonathan Becedas
  • Gerardo González
  • Irene Vázquez
  • Álvaro Braña
  • Kelly Antonini
  • Kristian Bay
  • Leonardo Ghizoni
  • Victor Jungnell
  • Jonas Morsbøl
  • Tilman Binder
  • Adam Boxberger
  • Georg H. Herdrich
  • Francesco Romano
  • Stefanos Fasoulas
  • Daniel Garcia-Almiñana
  • Silvia Rodriguez-Donaire
  • Dhiren Kataria
  • Mark Davidson
  • Ron Outlaw
  • Badia Belkouchi
  • Alexis Conte
  • Jose Santiago Perez
  • Rachel Villain
  • Ameli Schwalber


DISCOVERER is a €5.7M, 4¼ year Horizon 2020 funded project which aims to radically redesign Earth observation satellites for sustained operation at significantly lower altitudes. The satellite based Earth observation/remote sensing market is one of the success stories of the space industry, having seen significant growth in size and applications in recent times. According to Euroconsult, the EO data market from commercial and government operators, such as from data distributors, is expected to double to $3 billion in 2025 from an estimate of $1.7 billion in 2015. Yet key design parameters for the satellites which provide the data for this market have remained largely unchanged, most noticeably the orbit altitude. Operating satellites at lower altitudes allows them to be smaller, less massive, and less expensive whilst achieving the same or even better resolution and data products than current platforms. However, at reduced orbital altitude the residual atmosphere produces drag which decreases the orbital lifetime. Aerodynamic perturbations also challenge the ability of the platform to remain stable, affecting image quality. DISCOVERER intends to overcome these challenges by carrying out foundational research in the aerodynamic characterisation of materials, in atmosphere-breathing electric propulsion for drag-compensation, and in active aerodynamic control methods. A subset of the technologies developed will also be tested on an in-orbit demonstration CubeSat. In order to put these foundational developments in context, DISCOVERER will also develop advanced engineering, commercial, and economic models of Earth observation systems which include these newly identified technologies. This will allow the optimum satellite designs for return on investment to be identified. DISCOVERER will also develop roadmaps defining the on-going activities needed to commercialise these new technologies and make Earth observation platforms in these very low Earth orbits a reality.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), Adelaide, Australia, 25-29 September 2017.
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 25 Sep 2017

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