Pietro Milillo, an Assistant Professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, has secured a $200,000 grant from NASA funding for assessing NASA's Commercial Smallsat Data Acquisition (CSDA) Program.
The goal of the project is to assemble study teams for evaluating the potential impact spaceborne synthetic aperture radar (SAR) constellations may have in encouraging and enabling efficient approaches to advancing Earth System Science and applications development for societal benefit.
SAR is a cutting-edge technology that uses radar signals to create high-resolution images of the earth's surface. Unlike traditional optical systems that record light reflected by our planet Earth, SAR emits microwave radiations and uses advanced signal processing techniques to combine multiple radar reflections into a single, highly detailed image. SAR has a wide range of applications, from mapping and surveying to military reconnaissance and disaster response.
The CSDA Program was established to identify, evaluate and acquire data from commercial sources that support NASA's Earth science research and application goals. Specifically, the two proposals will evaluate Capella Space and Iceye high-resolution data for Coastal Monitoring and Sustainable Water Management Practices.
It will also further assess whether the added value of the new private constellation of SAR sensors including Capella and Iceye are leading to an unprecedented observational capability and advances in Earth Science and natural hazards response.
“Our first goal is document Capella Space and Iceye synthetic aperture radar data quality for coastal monitoring and sustainable water management practices” said Milillo, who is also a visiting scientist at the German Aerospace Center in Munich. “The synergistic use of synthetic aperture radar constellations proved to be the key for recent fundamental discoveries in climate change, should this data prove to be up to standard they will be able to be used routinely by the scientific community and provide a new level of detail in space and time never seen before”
In addition to Milillo, the study team will also include Associate Professor Hyongki Lee, another member of the Civil & Environmental Engineering Department and a coinvestigator atthe University of Houston.
Lee will be supporting the project by assessing the Capella and Iceye dataset over the selected reservoirs in Vietnam where in-situ observations are available from a stakeholder. This will provide valuable insights into the accuracy and reliability of the satellite data, as well as its potential applications in water resources management. Lee's expertise in remote sensing and water resources management will be a valuable asset to the project, and his contributions will be instrumental in achieving the study's objectives.
“SAR data has been useful in capturing reservoir states from space, and I am excited to look into the new high-resolution Capella and Iceye images and evaluate how then can contribute to obtained reservoir extents more accurately and more frequently. I envision the data can be eventually used for better water resources management with its unprecedented resolution in space and time,” Lee said.
The team will investigate the Capella and Iceyes commercial satellite's inclined orbit capabilities of acquiring SAR images close in time to the TanDEM-X (TDX) acquisitions in order to characterize shoreline uncertainties and improved estimates of daily reservoir operations in Vietnam.
“In order to assess the quality standards of these commercial constellations we will have to assess satellites performances using ground based instruments such as transponders and corner reflectors used for calibration,” Milillo said.
The study will also have international collaborators, including the Italian National Research Center (CNR-IREA), which will provide support with calibration test sites in Italy. Also collaborating is the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Vietnam, together with the National Center for Water Resilience Planning and Investigation, which will provide reservoir ground-based measurements.
The project will yield critical new knowledge about the relative capacity of satellite-based SAR to document spatiotemporal variability in coastal areas with the resolution and scale required for coastal flood prediction and risk assessment along the Pacific Coast, where flood hazards are dominated by high tides and waves.
The project will also focus on the Greater Mekong, which includes six neighboring countries in China, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam. The area is among the most affected regions by climate changes, and sees exponential growth of reservoir storage capacity.
Advanced analysis techniques will be used in the projected, including short-repeat pass SAR platforms for observing, interpreting, and modeling coastal areas and reservoir states. This will reduce uncertainties in coastal flood hazard assessment and decision-making for more sustainable water resources management.