Using GNSS, new service maps wind speed over oceans

August 1, 2018  - By
Image: GPS World

The first global GNSS-reflectometry ocean-wind data service has been launched by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) with the National Oceanography Centre (NOC), and with support from the European Space Agency.

The online data service, dubbed MERRBYS (Measurement of Earth Reflected Radio-navigation signals By Satellite), is free.

Users can access measurements of wind taken by a specially designed GNSS receiver hosted on SSTL’s TechDemoSat-1 satellite, which collects signals reflected off the surface of the ocean. The service offers monthly maps of wind speed over the oceans.

TechDemoSat-1 is also collecting GNSS reflections off land and polar regions, opening the door for new applications of this technology, such as soil moisture and ice measurements.

TechDemoSat-1 was launched in 2014 and carried eight payloads from different U.K. organizations. On successful completion of the satellite’s original mission, a life extension now allows the GNSS reflectometry payload to be operated continuously.

Onboard processed GNSS-R data is relayed to SSTL’s ground station in the U.K. and inverted for geophysical parameters using NOC retrieval algorithms for the estimation of near-surface ocean wind speed.

Users have access to data from the past three years, and new data is added daily with a latency of 30 days. Users can also register for a fast service allowing retrieval of data with a shorter delay — currently 48 hours, but with a target of less than 24 hours as the service matures.

Pilot demonstration

The current service is a pilot demonstration showing the potential for a new source of wind and wave measurements from in orbit using a small satellite. In the future, a constellation of low-cost small satellites carrying enhanced instruments could provide measurements in near-real time to support weather and wave forecasting.

The TechDemoSat-1 satellite and payload were supported by U.K. Centre for Earth Observation Instrumentation and the U.K. Space Agency, and sponsorship from European Space Agency has allowed the release of data.

More than 50 international journal papers have been published based on the use of the TechDemoSat-1 GNSS-R data. GPS World first discussed the technology in a 1999 Innovation column by GPS World Leadership Award Winner Attila Komjathy, “GPS, a new tool for ocean science.”

This was followed in 2007 by “Reflecting on GPS: Sensing land and ice from low Earth orbit” by Scott Gleason, a University of Surrey graduate detecting land and ice from orbit using one of the SSTL satellites; then in 2010 by “Friendly reflections: Monitoring water level with GNSS,” by Alejandro Egido and Marco Caparrini, which dealt with using reflections from water surfaces observed with receivers on the ground.

SSTL also provided the same GNSS reflectometry instrument to the NASA CYGNSS mission, where eight small satellites are using this technique to probe and analyze hurricanes.

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.