Tracking Global Vegetation with Micro-Satellite Proba-V

Rebecca Maxwell


The ESA, also known as the European Space Agency, has managed to do a lot of amazing feats in the field of space technology. They have created the Proba-1 and Proba-2 satellites, and their latest microsatellite, the Proba-V, is currently undergoing testing before its launch into space. The Proba-V is the ESA’s latest technological endeavor to date. This miniature satellite will be taking photos of Earth’s vegetation from space, giving scientists the ability to track deforestation, pollution, and vegetation growth around the world.  Every two days, this Earth observation satellite will chart the world’s vegetation.  The V in Proba-V is for vegetation and will have a 250 km multispectral viewing swath.

The Proba-V has plenty of unique facets to its design that make it a technological marvel. For one, this isn’t a regular satellite – it’s a miniature satellite. Measuring in at less than a cubic meter, the Proba-V still manages to contain a wide-angle telescope capable of taking high quality photos, a one-of-a-kind radio transmitter, radiation sensors, as well as a fiber optic connection experiment. Even more amazing, the Proba-V satellite will be the first satellite in history to be able to sense ADS-B signals (Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast) from space, which in turn means that it will be able to give scientists a global overview of all air traffic around the world.

It is true that there have been other satellites that were focused on tracking the world’s vegetation, such as the Spot-5 satellite. Satellites have been monitoring vegetation development for quite some time. In fact, the Spot-4 satellite, which was developed in 1998, was one of the first to have begun the trend of constant vegetation tracking. However, the Proba-V isn’t designed to overshadow the work done by such satellites – it’s supposed to help develop a clearer picture of the tracking that has already been done. Using the upgraded data from these satellites, scientists will be able to get a better idea of the current condition of the global environment.

As of early January 2013, Proba-V has been declared fully assembled. Most of Proba-V’s subcontracting went to the Belgian space company, Qinetiq Space, where engineers are making final observations before its launch. Proba-V is currently being held for final observations in Kruibeke, Belgium, at the company’s headquarters. Proba-V has been doing well in the final round of tests that it has to complete prior to its scheduled launch in April of 2013.

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Proba-V will hopefully be launched on top of the Vega rocket at Guiana Space Center in April, but before it can do that, it has to complete the final tests. These last tests will expose the microsatellite to similar temperature extremes that it will face while going into orbit, as well as similar vacuum pressures. This is expected to take several months at a bare minimum. Should a problem be discovered during this last stage of testing, it is quite possible that it would take weeks or even months to fix. Although the schedule for the Proba-V launch is quite tight, scientists are working their hardest to make sure that the miniature satellite will pass all of its tests and be in orbit come May.

Proba-V will have a Sun-Synchronous Orbit at an altitude of 820 km (510 mi), mimicking that of the current Spot satellites.  Spot-5’s Vegetation instrument is expected to end operational service by 2013 and Proba-V is the replacement Vegetation instrument.  ESA reports that there are more than 10,000 registered users of Vegetation geospatial and GIS data worldwide.

Artistic view of the Proba-V satellite.  Source: ESA.
Artistic view of the Proba-V satellite. Source: ESA.



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About the author
Rebecca Maxwell
Rebecca Maxwell is a freelance writer who loves to write about a variety of subjects. She holds a B.A. in History from Boise State University. Rebecca has also been a contributing writer on