In the last two decades, small satellites have opened up the use of space to groups other than governments and large corporations, allowing for increased participation and experimentation. This democratization of space was primarily enabled by two factors: improved technology and reduced launch costs. Improved technology allowed the miniaturization of components and reduced overall cost meaning many of the capabilities of larger satellites could be replicated at a fraction of the cost. In addition, new launcher systems that could host many small satellites as ride-shares on manifested vehicles lowered launch costs and simplified the process of getting a satellite into orbit. The potential of these smaller satellites to replace or augment existing systems has led to a flood of potential satellite and mission concepts, often with little rigorous study of whether the proposed satellite or mission is achievable or necessary.

This work proposes an analytical framework to aid system designers in evaluating the ability of an existing concept or small satellite to perform a particular imaging mission, either replacing or augmenting existing capabilities. This framework was developed and then refined by application to the problem of using small satellites to perform a wide area search mission – a mission not possible with existing imaging satellites, but one that would add to current capabilities. Requirements for a wide area search mission were developed, along with a list of factors that would affect image quality and system performance. Two existing small satellite concepts were evaluated for use by examining image quality from the systems, selecting an algorithm to perform the search function automatically, and then assessing mission feasibility by applying the algorithm to simulated imagery. Finally, a notional constellation design was developed to assess the number of satellites required to perform the mission. It was found that a constellation of 480 CubeSats producing 4 m spatial resolution panchromatic imagery and employing an on-board processing algorithm would be sufficient to perform a wide area search mission.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Artificial satellites in remote sensing--Evaluation; Imaging systems--Image quality

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Imaging Science (Ph.D.)

Department, Program, or Center

Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science (COS)


John P. Kerekes

Advisor/Committee Member

David W. Messinger

Advisor/Committee Member

Michael G. Gartley


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at G70.4 .W43 2015


RIT – Main Campus

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