UrtheCast said that SSTL's experience with the NovaSAR synthetic aperture radar satellite (above) was a key reason it selected the company to work on its Generation 3 satellite constellation. Credit: SSTL

WASHINGTON — UrtheCast, which operates Earth observation cameras on the International Space Station, announced plans June 19 to develop a constellation of optical and radar imaging satellites by the end of the decade.

The Generation 3 system will consist of at least 16 satellites in two orbital planes. The satellites will operate in pairs, one carrying a high-resolution camera and the other an L- and X-band synthetic aperture radar. The company said the satellites will be placed in orbit on multiple launches in 2019 and 2020.

UrtheCast is working with Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to develop the Generation 3 system. SSTL will design and build the satellite buses and the optical camera payload. SSTL will also build the radar payloads, based on a design provided by UrtheCast. Another partner, ElecnorDeimos Space of Spain, will be responsible for the radar payload integration, ground stations, and other activities.

The company did not disclose the cost of the Generation 3 system, but said it had a number of memoranda of understanding with customers and partners, including one with a confidential customer who pledged $195 million to fund system development.

UrtheCast currently operates medium- and high-resolution cameras mounted on the Russian segment of the ISS. The company released the first video from the high-resolution camera June 17, and said that it would enter commercial service by late July. The company is also developing another high-resolution camera and radar imaging system to be installed on the station’s U.S. segment.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...