Page last updated at 23:30 GMT, Monday, 10 August 2009 00:30 UK

'Crisis satellite' returns images

By Jonathan Amos
Science reporter, BBC News

Dallas-Fort Worth Airport (SSTL)
This early image from the UK-DMC2 satellite shows Dallas-Fort Worth airport

Britain's latest imaging satellite has returned its first pictures.

UK-DMC2 was launched with a twin spacecraft, Deimos-1, on a Dnepr rocket from Kazakhstan last month.

The platforms have joined the Disaster Monitoring Constellation, which is used to obtain rapid information about areas struck by natural calamities.

UK-DMC2's test pictures of the US states of Texas and Oklahoma show the satellite is performing to its design specification.

The UK spacecraft and its Spanish twin can acquire better resolution pictures than their predecessors in the constellation.

Their new sensors see double the number of pixels per hectare, giving their pictures a pixel size of 22m. The satellites also achieve this detailed view over a wide swath of 650km, meaning the spacecraft will return a lot of information in just one pass.

When a major natural catastrophe strikes some part of the globe, the spacecraft and the orbital assets of Disaster Monitoring Constellation will be tasked with gathering emergency pictures as fast as possible.

The imagery will be used by governments and aid agencies to co-ordinate the relief effort.

Agriculture in Kay County, Oklahoma (SSTL)
This detail from another image shows agriculture in Kay County, Oklahoma

UK-DMC2 and Deimos-1 were manufactured by Surrey Satellite Technology Limited.

The constellation already includes spacecraft owned by the UK, Algeria, China and Nigeria.

When they fly over their home territories, the satellites acquire a range of data for domestic use - everything from urban planning to monitoring locust swarms. But when the platforms fly across the rest of the globe, they gather imagery which is pooled and sold on to commercial users.

The network as a whole is managed by an SSTL subsidiary, Disaster Monitoring Constellation International Imaging (DMCii).

DMCii has just been commissioned to image the whole of sub-Saharan Africa as part of Europe's Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) programme

The data will, in part, be used to keep a check on deforestation in the vast Congo Basin forest area.

As the second largest tropical rainforest after the Amazon Basin, it is an area of significant concern in the fight against deforestation and the quest to limit carbon emissions.

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