D-Orbit of Italy plans to mount a synthetic aperture radar on its Ion cubesat carrier to monitor infrastructure in Italy's Lombardia region. Credit: D-Orbit

BREMEN, Germany – In two and a half years, a consortium led by Italian space company D-Orbit plans to operate a synthetic aperture radar (SAR) satellite for infrastructure monitoring.

Under the 10 million euro ($11.07 million) NOCTUA Landscape Monitoring contract, D-Orbit and partners aim to provide  information on the displacement of buildings, bridges and highways to government agencies and private citizens in Italy’s Lombardia Region.

“We will manage the satellite and the SAR payload and give them information like, ‘Hey that bridge moved three millimeters in the last year,’” Lorenzo Ferrario, D-Orbit chief technology officer, told SpaceNews at the Space Tech Expo Europe.

In August 2018, a 200-meter span of Genoa’s Morandi bridge collapsed, killing dozens of people. The tragedy heightened concern among politicians and the Italian public about the nation’s aging infrastructure.

NOCTUA is one of 33 projects selected by Northern Italy’s Lombardia Region as part of a 114 million euro campaign to support industrial research and development projects.

D-Orbit will act as the NOCTUA prime contractor developing “an end-to-end territorial monitoring service based on a SAR satellite,” Ferrario said. “We will start development in January. We plan to have it launched and tested in two and a half years.”

MetaSensing, an Italian-Dutch company that has operated airborne SAR for 12 years is part of the NOCTUA consortium. MetaSensing is manufacturing an X-band SAR to offer 30-centimeter resolution from space, said Adriano Meta, MetaSensing CEO and founder.

In addition to providing imagery in all light and weather conditions, repeated SAR observation of an area can reveal very small changes on the ground. Often, this is done with two satellites following the same orbital path. Since the NOCTUA consortium plans to perform interferometry with a single satellite, it will be very important to ensure the SAR is pointed accurately and the satellite’s orbit remains stable, Meta said.

MetaSensing’s SAR payload will be mounted on D-Orbit’s free-flying Ion cubesat carrier. D-Orbit is preparing the first in-orbit demonstration of the Ion cubesat carrier in the first quarter of 2020 on a Vega rocket, Ferrario said.

The NOCTUA program “is important because it creates an end-to-end service and because it proves our Ion carrier has cutting-edge platform capabilities,” Ferrario said.

D-Orbit, a firm with 58 employees, is based in Como, Italy, with subsidiaries in Lisbon, London and Washington.

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She...