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Hyperspectral Architecture Study for Land Management

Raymond M. Bell, Jr. *a , Timothy N. Miller a , , Douglas B. Helmuth b , David A. Bennett a , Christopher A. Lentz b

a Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, Advanced Technology Center, 3251 Porter Drive, Palo Alto, CA, USA 94304

b Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, 1111 Lockheed Martin Way, Sunnyvale, CA 94089

ABSTRACT Remote-sensing hyperspectral sensors operating in the reflective bands offer the opportunity to vastly improve land management worldwide by providing continuous coverage and continuity of satellite capability. We have examined a range of potential system-level architectures, and derive their constellations, including orbital parameters and the number of needed satellites. We have demonstrated

that a single satellite will not meet the current needs of the environmental sensing community; rather a constellation of multiple operational satellites is required for desirable worldwide land management missions. The utility of such constellations

is examined using open source imagery for several land management applications.

INTRODUCTION The worldwide climate change community needs accurate, timely monitoring of the state of the Earth’s atmosphere and surface. This includes measurements of greenhouse gases over time, the mapping of biomass distributions, monitoring of human emissions, and many other relevant phenomena. Remote-sensing hyperspectral imaging is a critical tool to meet this demand for monitoring the environment, providing the demanding spectral, temporal, and spectral resolution needed to answer our biggest environmental questions. 1,2

A complete network of operational satellites and ground analysis and distribution

centers could provide this data. Some work has been done to study the constellation of satellites required to meet the needs of the Earth science community 3,4,5 , and hyperspectral imaging deserves special consideration to support such a constellation.

Multiple satellite architectures will potentially meet the requirements for a remote sensing hyperspectral mission. Our approach in this paper is to consider several possible architectures, each with its own set of requirements, and then derive the required constellation of satellites for potential architecture. Here we define architecture as the high-level system design for a constellation of satellites, characterized by certain first-order parameters such as the aperture diameter, orbit

altitude and others. The details of the payload hardware are neglected here, only assuming that they work well enough to support acceptable performance.

We first consider the requirements for general hyperspectral land-management missions, and provide reasonable initial values for these requirements, based on what needs we see in the Earth-observing community. We then state some necessary assumptions about the imager (e.g. number of pixels, satellite look angle) based on current technology. We then define several potential architectures using variations of these requirements in order to generate designs for comparison. Given these architectures, we then perform a derivation of the required constellation of satellites that will satisfy each, specifying orbital parameters and the number of satellites. We further discuss how the constellation parameters are driven by changes in the initial requirements. Finally we discuss the results and draw conclusions.

INITIAL REQUIREMENTS The Earth Science community currently needs an architecture that meets a particular set of requirements to be able to achieve its goals for Earth imaging. However, there is no well-defined single set of requirements that can provide answers for all earth-science questions. The potential missions to answer these questions are many: monitoring of crop health, measuring forest composition over time, mineralogical exploration, disaster management, pollution trends in dense urban areas, and others. 6,7

A brief survey of recent Earth-science conferences, agency reports, and conversations with users of hyperspectral data leads us to believe that there is a common set of requirements that will generally satisfy a variety of currently desired missions. 8,9 Table 1 lists these requirements. Though a small set, these system parameters are a good starting point for deriving potential architectures.

Table 1. Initial requirements.



Missions supported



– 2.5 microns

geological exploration, meas. of ecosystem health

ground sampling

5-10 meters

disaster assessment, crop health monitoring


revisit time


day – 1 week

air quality forecasting, daily ecosystem dynamics, disaster response

Earth coverage

mid latitudes, 60° maximum

study of populated areas

The reflective waveband is of great interest, consisting of reflected solar radiance in the visible (V), near-infrared (NIR) and short wave infrared (SWIR), 0.4-2.5 microns – collectively referred to as VNIR-SWIR. In this waveband, hyperspectral imaging at the appropriate spectral and spatial resolution can identify materials and measure the component makeup of a scene. This supports a variety of missions, including geological exploration, agricultural monitoring, and measurement of ecosystem health. The reflective waveband is measured by a variety of other instruments such as Hyperion and CHRIS. 10,11

A small ground sampling distance (GSD) enables sufficiently accurate mapping of

local areas, and also reduces the errors due to components mixing together within

a single pixel. A GSD of 5-10 meters benefits any mission requiring precise

mapping, such as disaster assessment or crop health monitoring. 5 Existing hyperspectral instruments such as AVIRIS and HYDICE provide great benefits with GSDs as small as 4 meters. 12,13

Revisit time is critical for measuring short-term changes on the Earth. Values on the order of one day are useful for measuring pollution trends in cities, making air quality forecasts, monitoring coastal ecosystem dynamics which change with the

daily tides, or fast-response disaster monitoring.

MODIS revisit areas on the earth with this frequency. 14,15

Ground coverage is an important parameter that optimizing a system for particular areas of interest. Airborne instruments can be tasked to fly directly over a desired area, whereas orbiting instruments must have their orbital parameters optimized to maximize coverage over a desired portion of the Earth. Figure 1 shows how much time a satellite spends over each latitude as a function of orbital inclination. It is clear that a particular choice of orbit inclination maximizes average coverage at a certain latitude: for example, a satellite with a 30° inclination spends most of its time around 30° Earth latitude. Specific missions to measure urban areas, e.g. for monitoring pollution trends, or to measure the world’s agricultural regions, need to cover local areas at the Earth’s mid-latitudes. An orbit inclination of 60° will maximize coverage over heavily populated regions such as central Europe, Australia, sub-Saharn Africa and the United States. Alternately, the orbit could be selected to cover the entire globe at the expense of more frequent revisits (such as in a sun-synchronous orbit), but we choose instead to maximize revisits to localized points of interest and enjoy variable time-of-day accesses.


Instruments such as IASI and

Figure 1 : coverage versus latitude as a function of orbit inclinations These initial requirements
Figure 1 : coverage versus latitude as a function of orbit inclinations These initial requirements

Figure 1 : coverage versus latitude as a function of orbit inclinations

These initial requirements define a certain satellite architecture. However, the requirements are not precise and allow for some variation. Therefore we can consider several possible architectures based on reasonable variations of the system parameters. We define our possible options by varying the revisit time from 0.5 to 7 days; and the GSD to be 5 or 10 meters.

ARCHITECTURE ASSUMPTIONS Given these potential architectures, we can now derive a required constellation of satellites for each potential architecture. However, beyond the initial requirements stated above, our derivation process requires further system parameters as inputs. Table 2 lists these parameters, our chosen values, and existing instruments with similar values. These choices are assumptions about the architectures that are not immediately driven by any mission.

Table 2. Initial assumptions.



Similar existing instruments

focal plane array pixels pixel pitch

261 x 600






0.08 – 0.50

AVIRIS, Hyperion, M3, CHRIS

max look angle min sun elevation angle







For the sake of a first-order system study, we can choose values that match those of existing instruments. This is a reasonable initial approach, since this hardware has a proven heritage of success for similar missions, whose characteristics could easily be replicated for future satellites.

We base our focal plane array (FPA) assumptions on the Moon Mineralogy Mapper

(M3), which launched in 2008 and is working successfully. 16

possible hyperspectral remote-sensing missions we might choose that are older or are being planned, but M3 represents an FPA that is both state-of-the-art and also


The value for Q is a critical parameter for remote-sensing systems, equaling the ratio of the diffracted spot size at the FPA to the pixel pitch 17 . Our choice of Q is based on that of other remote-sensing missions, such as AVIRIS, Hyperion, HYDICE, M3, and CHRIS.

While the maximum look angle (the largest angle off-nadir that the satellite may view) may be large for an agile satellite, there is limited functionality for hyperspectral missions if the value is too large. The projected GSD becomes larger, and areas become lost or unclear for terrain that varies in elevation or is shadowed. We choose a max look angle of 30 degrees as a reasonable limit, based on other remote-sensing missions such as IKONOS 18 or CHRIS.

Reflective images must be collected during daylight hours, so the minimum sun angle must be above zero. Furthermore, we wish to avoid long shadows due to uneven terrain or tall objects, that confuse the processing of hyperspectral surface data, which leads to a minimum sun angle assumed to be at least 30°. 19 While recognizing that some small portion of terrains are steep enough to be in shadow during much of the daylight hours, we assume that 30° is a reasonable initial sun angle that will allow imaging of most areas.

There are other

It should be noted that signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is also an important driver of a satellite architecture, but it is beyond the scope of this study. Instead we assume that a SNR requirement can be reasonably met along with the other requirements; this is a fair assumption if our requirements mimic those of successful existing missions. We can also argue that it is sufficient to consider GSD as the main driver of image quality, for the sake of this first-order study.

DERIVATION OF CONSTELLATIONS We now perform first-order geometrical trades to derive the required constellations for our potential architectures. The inputs to this process are the requirements and assumptions listed in Tables 1 and 2. The outputs are the high-level parameters that describe the optimized constellation: aperture diameter, orbit altitude, and the minimum number of satellites. We assume simple circular orbits in this study.

Table 3. Derived trade of aperture vs. altitude.

Aperture [m]

Altitude [km]

5m GSD

10 m GSD























However, the outputs can be simplified somewhat. The orbit altitude and aperture diameter are linked together and are a single remaining free variable in the process. To refine the analysis, we choose desirable best values to fix both these parameters, with a goal of both a reasonable LEO altitude of ~500-1000 km and a sub-meter aperture diameter. Table 3 above (and Figure 2 below) shows this trade. We can see for example that with a goal of 5m GSD, an acceptable choice is a 0.7m aperture and a 548-km altitude. For a goal of 10m GSD, we only need a 0.4m aperture at a 623-km altitude.

10m GSD, we only need a 0.4m aperture at a 623-km altitude. Figure 2. Derived trade
10m GSD, we only need a 0.4m aperture at a 623-km altitude. Figure 2. Derived trade
10m GSD, we only need a 0.4m aperture at a 623-km altitude. Figure 2. Derived trade
10m GSD, we only need a 0.4m aperture at a 623-km altitude. Figure 2. Derived trade

Figure 2. Derived trade of aperture vs. altitude.

For the sake of continuing the study, we will fix the aperture at 0.5 meters. After the altitude and diameter are fixed, we can consider the number of satellites required. Figures 3 and 4 show the results of the derivation of how many satellites are required in a constellation, for the cases of 5m GSD and 10m GSD and for a

variety of revisit times. (Note that the GSD described here is the geometric mean GSD at the maximum look angle. The GSD at angles closer to nadir pointing will be smaller than this, down to 3.9m from a 5m maximum.)

will be smaller than this, down to 3.9m from a 5m maximum.) Figure 3. Number of
will be smaller than this, down to 3.9m from a 5m maximum.) Figure 3. Number of
will be smaller than this, down to 3.9m from a 5m maximum.) Figure 3. Number of
will be smaller than this, down to 3.9m from a 5m maximum.) Figure 3. Number of
will be smaller than this, down to 3.9m from a 5m maximum.) Figure 3. Number of
will be smaller than this, down to 3.9m from a 5m maximum.) Figure 3. Number of

Figure 3. Number of satellites required, GSD = 5m.

maximum.) Figure 3. Number of satellites required, GSD = 5m. Figure 4. Number of satellites required,
maximum.) Figure 3. Number of satellites required, GSD = 5m. Figure 4. Number of satellites required,
maximum.) Figure 3. Number of satellites required, GSD = 5m. Figure 4. Number of satellites required,
maximum.) Figure 3. Number of satellites required, GSD = 5m. Figure 4. Number of satellites required,
maximum.) Figure 3. Number of satellites required, GSD = 5m. Figure 4. Number of satellites required,
maximum.) Figure 3. Number of satellites required, GSD = 5m. Figure 4. Number of satellites required,

Figure 4. Number of satellites required, GSD = 10m.

DISCUSSION Figures 3 and 4 show clearly that more than one satellite is needed to meet the

requirements for short revisit times and a small GSD. The figures also show how the constellation is designed to minimize the number of satellites at our preferred

If a mission also needs to meet a revisit time requirement over a

wider range of latitudes, the number of needed satellites increases. For example,

latitude of 60°.

it takes five satellites to achieve a one-day revisit at 5m GSD over the latitudes 50-


The number of satellites needed for a particular architecture is determined by several of our requirements and assumptions. The charts show that the number is driven approximately linearly with the revisit time: a shorter revisit time requires more satellites available. Likewise the number is linear with GSD.

The number of satellites needed is also roughly linear with the look angle. Figure 5 shows how the average coverage per satellite (proportional to the number of satellites needed) increases with look angle: a satellite that can point to achieve large look angles can view more area.

can point to achieve large look angles can view more area. Figure 5. Coverage vs. look
can point to achieve large look angles can view more area. Figure 5. Coverage vs. look
can point to achieve large look angles can view more area. Figure 5. Coverage vs. look
can point to achieve large look angles can view more area. Figure 5. Coverage vs. look
can point to achieve large look angles can view more area. Figure 5. Coverage vs. look

Figure 5. Coverage vs. look angle (5m GSD, 0.5m aperture).

The value for the minimum sun angle does not linearly drive the number of

satellites, though it has a significant effect. Half of the Earth will be in darkness no matter the minimum sun angle, and increasing that angle from zero subtracts from this 50% value for available imaging time. Our 30° minimum sun angle corresponds to 25% of the total Earth where there is sufficient sunlight illuminating

a target area.

In Figures 3 and 4 we chose above to specify the same aperture for both the 5m and 10m GSD case. However, we may optimize each case by choosing different values from Table 3, for example a lower altitude and smaller aperture for the 10m GSD case. This may be desirable since a smaller aperture means a significantly less expensive optical system. However, a reduced altitude by half also means about half the coverage, and thus doubles the number of satellites needed to

achieve the same revisit time. Therefore there is a cost trade: reducing the cost of the optical system is traded against the cost of more required satellites.

It is also interesting to note that if we do indeed halve both the altitude (and aperture) of the 10m GSD case, the altitude will now match that of the 5m GSD

case. Then Figure 4 changes such that its values are about the same as in Figure

3. That is, the number of satellites is roughly independent of GSD, given a fixed


This analysis assumes that all satellites in the constellation are described by the same orbital parameters, though out of phase with each other. Since it is clear that certain latitudes are maximized, the one possibility for greater global coverage is to design different orbits for multiple satellites. For example, one satellite might be at an inclination of 60° to be optimized for European coverage, and another could be at 40° for Australian coverage. In which case, the ground coverage would be roughly the sum of the two corresponding curves in Figure 1. The downside is that the orbits would not have the same period, and as the satellites move out of phase, the constellation will have a coverage gap for some extended period of time. Detailed non-identical constellation orbits are beyond the scope of this study.

UTILITY During the systems of systems engineering of the kind of constellation of satellites considered in this paper, utility is best assessed by comparing detailed sensor design, calibration requirements, and constellation data processing and distribution methods required for various applications versus constellation parameters. Of particular interest in this study is an assessment of the utility that such a system would have when revisit rates are daily or more frequent than daily in many regions of the world. For example, plant aspiration and plant water content in crops and forests both vary within a day, so a several-day revisit time will fail to adequately monitor certain critical land use processes. Pollution trends in urban areas and disaster-monitoring are also examples whose critical observables may be lost unless the revisit time is a day or less. However, hyperspectral satellite imagery with these rates of revisits is currently unavailable. Hyperion is a rare satellite- based hyperspectral sensor with a sufficiently small GSD for many land-use applications, but its revisit time is several weeks. Aircraft studies may exist or may be underway (utilizing assets such as AVIRIS or HYDICE) that can provide examples of the utility of an operational hyperspectral system with high revisit rates that could be eventually achieved in space, but we know of no studies at this time. Ideally this data would confirm calibration and processing requirements for various applications. In the future we hope to acquire open source imagery with the frequency and quality to support the engineering of such a constellation.

Progress can be made by collaborative use of the investments of the global community over the last several decades to address the real objective and long term goal of implementing long-term operational monitoring of our planet for the

collective societal benefit of managing the Earth’s climate for sustaining human life. This operational paradigm means using reliable and proven technologies, designed to provide reliable continuous data over extended periods of time, processed by proven and mature ground processing, with agreed upon products that are usable by individuals, scientific community, and regional and intraregional governances alike. An important note is that the invention of the required capabilities is not required, rather they exist today; but we must make commitments to take the next disciplined operational steps. This is distinctly different from the science demonstration and discovery missions that we have nationally and internationally pursued in the past.

GOESS (a global network of independent climate monitoring systems) attempts to address this by a disciplined collecting of the existing disparate resources from todays arsenal, with admirable results and progress. But turning scientific demonstrations of capabilities into an operational set of systems entraps past design differences and restrictions that will not address the long term requirements. We must plan for “a level of resolution sufficient to detail human-induced changes such as urban growth, deforestation, infrastructure development, and land use change, (that will prove) invaluable to studies of anthropomorphic effects upon climate change.” [20]

CONCLUSIONS We have derived a variety of potential architectures and described their constellations. This study demonstrates that the current needs of the community will not be met by a single satellite. Rather, a constellation of multiple operational satellites is needed to be able to meet the desired requirements for current land management missions, whichever architecture may be chosen.

To select one architecture for a particular mission requires a refinement of the requirements based on user needs, e.g. choosing a 5m or 10m GSD. A further trade is also required to consider cost vs. performance. To achieve 5m-GSD imaging with a half-day average revisit time over a range of latitudes of 50-60° requires the cost of nine satellites, whereas loosening the requirement to a one- day revisit cuts the number of satellites in half. However, it is important to remember that cost is not linear with the number; since the non-recurring expense (e.g. design, facilities, test equipment, software) is distributed over the entire number, the cost-per-satellite decreases as the number increases. Large constellations are common and economical, e.g. the GOES weather satellite system (13 satellites launched serially), the GPS constellation (about 30 satellites), and the Globalstar communications system (40 satellites). The expense of a constellation is further mitigated by a large consortium of funders, and it’s the requisite collaboration and marshalling of our collective capabilities for a global priority, including a long term disciplined implementation plan that should be capturing our attention today.

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