The River Runs Through IT
Article published in the Autumn 2023 issue of GeoConnexion magazine.
Slovenia has been using agile microsatellites to build high-quality digital twin 3D models of river basins. By Kevin P Corbley
Several years ago, Slovenia recognised the potential for small-satellite technology to revolutionise earth observation (EO) and established SPACE-SI – the Slovenian Centre for Excellence in Space Sciences and Technology – in Ljubljana with plans to build the country’s first microsatellite. In 2020, SPACE-SI launched NEMO-HD, a versatile remote sensing microsatellite about the size of a suitcase and costing a fraction of a traditional EO satellite.
That bet on microspace technology has paid off. Over the past three years, NEMO-HD has proved its mettle by capturing 2.8m resolution pan-sharpened multispectral imagery and high-definition video for a variety of scientific and commercial applications, often partnering with the European Space Agency (ESA) on global projects. In-country, the microsatellite has responded to the devastating 2022 Kras wildfire and deadly August 2023 floods.
In terms of non-emergency applications, NEMO-HD has assisted SPACE-SI and C3M – a Slovenian computer modelling company – in making a name for themselves by developing high-quality 3D ‘digital twin’ models of river basins by combining Sentinel imagery with agile NEMO-HD acquisitions. Used worldwide, these 3D river models will be instrumental in balancing the often-conflicting activities of economic development and environmental sustainability.
In addition to joining forces with C3M modelling experts, SPACE-SI credits much of its river mapping success to the agility of the spacecraft, which enables it to acquire imagery of long river segments on a single pass in one day – even if the basin flows perpendicular to the satellite’s north-south orbital path. The onboard attitude control that makes orbital manoeuvrability and precise sensor pointing possible is a breakthrough small satellite technology developed with Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) of Canada.