“Simulating the Performance of Ocean-Observing Imaging Payloads for Nanosatellites”

October 13, 2021 @ 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm America/New York Timezone

Geoscience & Remote Sensing Society

Zoom link: 

Registration click here: 

Speaker:  Candence Brea Payne


Earth’s oceans are the largest defining feature of our planet and arguably an invaluable resource. Consequences of climate change threaten to have substantial and irreversible negative effects on our oceans, making it crucial to quickly understand and quantify behavioral changes resulting from increased human impact. Near-continuous, large-scale monitoring from space is revolutionizing methods for monitoring and forecasting ocean behavior. Nanosatellite platforms offer a potential solution for large-scale deployment of ocean-sensing instruments that provide detailed measurements of critical characteristics. M​onitoring these key features provides valuable insight to behavioral changes within the context of our shifting climate.

Constellations of nanosatellites that target key ocean characteristics could provide continuous ocean monitoring with high spatiotemporal resolution. Compared with current state-of-the-art ocean-observing spacecraft, such as NASA’s Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) with a repeat cycle of 16 days, nanosatellites in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) can observe the same ground scene roughly once every five days. While spacecraft such as NASA’s Geostationary Operational.  Environmental Satellite (GOES) achieves high temporal resolution, imaging the same scene every 30 seconds to 15 minutes depending on target region size, they are limited to imaging a single ground scene due to their stationary placement. Constellations of nanosatellites offer opportunities for measurement improvement including reducing revisit rates down from several days to hours, as well as increasing surface coverage through placement in orbital planes of varying inclinations. Informative, emergent information such as sea surface salinity, front location, and fauna concentrations (namely phytoplankton) are derived from measuring key characteristics such as ocean color and Sea Surface Temperature (SST). Existing nanosatellite constellations such as Planet’s Flock-3p, composed of 88 3U (10 x 10 x 30 cm​) CubeSats, provide daily coverage of Earth’s land mass; however, they do not yet target oceans and coastal regions, nor tailor their imaging bands for these specific measurement needs. We present a concise set of ocean measurement band centers for an imaging payload targeting ocean color, a key behavioral feature. We assume narrow-band (10 – 15 nm bandwidth) ocean color measurements (​390 nm – 865 nm) and constrain the payload to within the volume of a U-class (3U / 6U / 12U) nanosatellite located in LEO ​(~ 450 km altitude)​. A radiometric link approach is used to develop a tool that compares the performance of multiple different available Commercial

Off-the-Shelf (COTS) detectors, as well as different detector and optical front-end combinations. As detector sensitivity performance is driven primarily by aperture size and focal length, the imaging payload is assumed to have a scalable aperture (e.g.,diameter, focal length) and tunable sensor parameters (e.g., pixel pitch, number of pixels, sensor format). We simulate the sensor’s performance primarily by scaling the aperture from 0.5 cm to 20 cm diameter, suitable for 0.5U – 12U CubeSat volumes. Simulation results determine key “cut-off” regions where collected data no longer achieve the desired measured sensitivity of the target feature. A discussion of the radiometric approach, including definition of the measurement and detector parameter trade-space, is provided, along with preliminarily results of the simulated performance.


Cadence Payne is a 4th year PhD student in the department of Aeronautics and Astronautics in the Space Telecommunications, Astronomy, and Radiation Laboratory advised by Dr. Kerri Cahoy. Her research at MIT focuses on technology development for small, Earth-observing spacecraft called CubeSats. She is currently the lead Systems Engineer for the Auroral Emission Radio Observer (AERO), a 3U CubeSat that uses a 4-meter vector sensor antenna to probe low-frequency emission from the Earth's aurora. She is also supporting AEROS, a joint mission with MIT Portugal that collects data for climate and weather monitoring via ocean observations. ​She graduated from Morehead State University in 2017 with a BS in Space Science and a minor in astronomy.