Eye in the sky -Canadian satellites protect environment

When she was a kid Taryn Tomlinson and her sisters would play a game to see who would be the first to spot a satellite in the night sky. Sometimes it would be hours before they could declare a winner. Today, with over 2000 satellites orbiting the earth, such a game would be over very quickly!

Tomlinson still spends a lot of time thinking about satellites but as a senior engineer for the Canadian Space Agency, she likes to think of each one having its own characteristics or superpowers.

© Canadian Space Agency

For a group of Canadian satellites that superpower is remote sensing, the ability to look at and understand objects or areas on Earth from a great distance. They do this using synthetic aperture radar (SAR), a way of sending radio waves down to earth and then reading them as they bounce back. The data that is collected can then create three dimensional maps of the planet below. These radio waves can read any ecosystem, whether it be land, water or ice and can see through the heaviest of clouds or the darkest of nights.

Building on the success of RADARSAT and RADARSAT 2, RADARSAT Constellation Mission (RCM) are Canadian Earth Observation satellites that work as a team as our very own ‘eye in the sky.’ Their mission is to watch over Canada, keeping an eye on both land and sea to help manage and protect the country’s environment and waters. 

Solutions from space to earthbound problems

From hundreds of kilometres above the Earth satellites are able to see what we cannot here on the ground. Because of this unique vantage point and the superpower of SAR they are able to help provide solutions to some of Canada’s difficult environmental problems.

© Canadian Space Agency.

Some of these include:

  • Monitoring coastal erosion
  • Detecting oil pollution
  • Mapping ice formations so ship captains can safely navigate Arctic waters
  • Helping farmers make the best use of their land
  • Providing warning that structures such as bridges might fail
  • Supporting emergency responders as they battle wildfires and floods

“We talk a lot about astronauts at the Canadian Space Agency but I’ve started talking about terranauts,” says Tomlinson. “Where do we want young people to visit the planet virtually and how can they help us design those apps that use satellite data to help the environment.

Fast fact: The RADARSAT Constellation Mission satellites pass over Canada up to four times a day and can map the entire surface of the country.

The Canadian Space Agency has lots of fun activities related to the RADARSAT Constellation Mission. Here are some that Taryn suggests:

Article originally published in Brainspace Magazine

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