The CE-Sat-1 technology demonstration satellite launched in June 2017 with Canon’s DSLR commercial off-the-shelf camera. Credit: Canon

LOGAN, Utah — Japanese digital-imaging giant Canon is planning a constellation of more than 100 remote-sensing satellites utilizing commercial DSLR and electro-optical system technology to achieve sub-meter ground resolution and ultra-high-definition video streaming from low Earth orbit.

Led by subsidiary Canon Electronics Inc. (CEI), the company formed a new division, Satellite Systems Laboratory, in 2012 with the goal of cultivating new business using the company’s expertise in image processing and fine machining.

“Earth observation was selected as a mission since imaging is the DNA of Canon,” CEI’s Nobutada Sako told the Small Satellite conference here Aug. 9. “This time, we aimed to take images of the Earth.”

Equipped with a Canon DSLR EOS 5D Mark III and a 16 mm Canon PowerShot S110, the 65-kg CE-SAT-1 was launched June 23 last year atop an Indian PSLV rocket carrying the CartoSat-2D spacecraft and 30 piggyback satellites.

Delivered to a sun-synchronous orbit of 505 km, CE-SAT-1’s main telescope was activated Sept. 1, achieving a ground sampling distance of 90 cm and revealing cars, trucks and a train in Osaka.

Sako said the primary camera’s optics were designed and integrated by CEI specifically for the mission, with the electro-optical system slightly modified for the space environment and controlled from an onboard computer via a USB interface.

He said the secondary PowerShot S110, offering a 100-meter telescope and 500-meter wide-angle GSD at 600 km altitude, was installed atop CE-SAT-1 with no modifications.

Both cameras have area sensors, with the satellite nominally pointing to a target while taking images with different exposures. A pseudo push broom capability is also possible by using short exposure times with the satellite pointed to the Earth’s center.

To develop the spacecraft, Satellite Systems Laboratory relied on in-house designers and specialists, as well as outside experts in the areas of cubesat systems, astronomy, software, semiconductor and radio engineering, among others.

The project received support from the University of Tokyo’s Hodoyoshi project, which in 2014 successfully launched two Earth-imaging micro satellites, Hodoyoshi-3 and 4, on a Dnepr rocket from Russia’s Yasny spaceport. For CE-SAT-1, Hodoyoshi supplied the flight-proven Japanese and ITAR-free — meaning no U.S. export issues — microsatellite bus and components.

Sako said elements of the satellite were also developed using Canon commercial products, including the on-board computer that he said is based on a multi-function printer.

The spacecraft ground segment was developed by Tokai University and is operated by members of Satellite Systems Laboratory. Dish antennas measuring 2.4 meters diameter were installed at the CEI factory north of Tokyo, with the main control center established at the company’s Tokyo headquarters. Both are network-connected and Sako the ground segment is being preparing for multi-satellite operations.

During initial operation, satellite health was fully confirmed and optical calibration was conducted with a resolution test chart on the ground. After detecting some aberrations, focus calibration of the primary telescope was performed with temperature control and by physically adjusting a hypersonic actuator fitted on the secondary mirror.

Sako said advanced missions performed include video capturing, HDR, super-resolution and reprograming the onboard computer after initial operation.

CE-SAT-I is still operating, though after more than one year in orbit it has experienced some performance degradation. Sako said it is expected to function for its nominal design life in excess of two years. In the meantime, CEI plans to extract and analyze data from CE-SAT-1 imagery while beginning work on CE-SAT-1B.

Ultimately, the company plans a mass-production capability sized for more than 100 satellites, with the goal of providing 8K low-light real-time video and streaming using a laser terminal.

Amy Svitak is a contributing editor for Space Intel Report.

Amy Svitak
Amy Svitak