Data retrieval through satellites: How does it work?

Image of a broadcasting tower against a starry night

Ever wondered how satellites gather data that we have at our fingertips at all times? If you’re looking something up on the internet, using online maps to go to your appointment or checking the weather then you have received information that has been provided and processed by satellites orbiting around our planet. But how do satellites gather this data and do they all have the same task?

Depending on their purpose, there are three types of missions that are seen most frequently. The first use is when transferring information, for example in communication technology whenever we talk on our phones or look up weather reports. Such satellites rotate around the earth with the same speed as the rotation of the planet itself. That way, the satellite stays over the same spot at all times and can be used reliably for a specific region. 

However, when you are using a GPS system for navigating around your city, you are more likely to depend on satellites that help us define positions, which move along a pre-defined orbit and pass by the same location every 12 hours. This type of satellite is found very often, so that they can cover as many places as possible. 

Finally, we can measure distances and physical properties of our planet with the help of Earth observation satellites, which move along a so-called “sun-synchronous” orbit that allows them to observe a location at the same solar time at each pass-by.

Image of the different satellite orbits: Earth Observation satellites are about 500-900km away from the earth, communication and broadcasting satellites are 36000km away from the earth and GPS satellites are 20000-40000km away.

How is data being measured?

Earth observation satellites are equipped with specific measuring devices such as optical sensors, radar sensors and thermal sensors, whichever is better suited for that mission.  Not only can we use optical sensors for seeing real-time images of a desired location, but we can also monitor vegetative changes and water distribution over time, by comparing past images taken of the same exact location with present ones. 

Radar sensors use radio waves to detect the Earth’s surface, which can penetrate through clouds and vegetation to provide detailed information about the terrain. This is used also for uncharted territories, for example deep parts of the ocean, where scientists might be unsure of sea levels, or when monitoring earthquakes. Lastly, thermal sensors detect the amount of heat being emitted from the Earth’s surface, which can be used to study changes in temperature over time.

How can DOMINO-E help data retrieval?

With all these possible uses and different types of specialised satellites, it can be hard to acquire data in an organised way, which is where Domino-E can help out. By creating a virtual assistant and a mission booking system, thanks to our partners at TILDE and ONERA, Earth observation data can be gathered in a more coordinated way. This can benefit all types of endeavours and prioritize urgent missions that may be in need of data more quickly than others. As it stands, a satellite can take on a mission at a time, which can be a lengthy process and blocks the resources of the device for the duration of the processing of the mission. With the help of Domino-E, a more efficient way of collecting data is allowed, by splitting large surfaces that need to be investigated into multiple missions that can be completed by satellites at the same time. That way, more missions can benefit from the above-mentioned sensors and capabilities of a satellite.