Peru Signals Space Ambitions with Earth-Monitoring Satellite

From Scientific American:

Peru is poised to launch its first Earth-observation satellite on September 15. Called PerúSAT-1, it will give the small South American country one of the sharpest space-based cameras available.

Researchers are eager to use the Peru probe’s images to study forest health and monitor natural disasters, among other things. The satellite could help officials to discover illegal gold mines, roads used for logging and other incursions into Peru’s forests, says Matt Finer, a researcher at the Amazon Conservation Association in Washington DC.

PerúSAT-1 will collect visible light, and will deliver images in which the pixels are as small as 70 centimetres on one side—a bit larger than a standard chess board. “The resolution is definitely world-class,” Finer says. “It’s going to be a powerful tool for the government.”

Peru is a relative newcomer to space. Its National Commission for Aerospace Research and Development (CONIDA) has launched a CubeSat and a handful of other nanosatellites built by university researchers; the success of PerúSAT-1 would represent a major advance.

Peru’s decision in 2014 to spend around US$200 million on its own state-of-the-art satellite raised eyebrows, given the availability of detailed satellite images and the developing country’s lack of experience operating spacecraft.

NASA’s Landsat satellites deliver images of every point on Earth at a resolution of 30 metres per pixel up to every eight days, and the first of the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-2 satellites is beaming down images at resolutions of up to 10 metres. Private companies including Planet, DigitalGlobe and Terra Bella (owned by Google) take and sell images at a resolution of up to 40 centimetres per pixel.

But some in Peru’s government would prefer that the country doesn’t rely solely on satellites owned by foreign governments and companies, says Brian Zutta Salazar, a remote-sensing scientist at the Peruvian Ministry of the …

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