The exclusive space SIGINT club is about to receive to new members as the Netherlands and Norway forge ahead with their BROS satellite programme.

The Dutch-Norwegian Binational Radio Frequency Observation Satellites, BROS for short, are being developed by a consortium comprising the Nederlandse Organisatie voor Toegepast Natuurwetenschappelijk Onderzoek (TNO/Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research), the Koninklijk Nederlands Lucht en Ruimtevaartcentrum (NLR/Royal Netherlands Aerospace Centre) and the Forsvarets forskningsinstitutt (FFI/Norwegian Defence Research Institute). The space element of the initiate includes two nanosatellites named Birkeland, after the Norwegian scientist Kristian Olaf Bernhard (1867 to 1917), and Huygens named after the Dutch physicist, mathematician and astronomer Christiaan Huygens (1629 to 1695). Reports state that the nanosatellites will be based upon NanoAvionics’ M6P bus and will weigh ten kilograms (22 pounds) each.

Launch of these two satellites is planned for 2022, according to reports, and they will be placed in a low earth polar orbit around 600 kilometres (324 nautical miles/nm) above the Earth’s surface. They will orbit in formation at distances of between eight nautical miles (15 kilometres) and 10.8nm (20 kilometres). The satellites will revisit any point on Earth four times daily, with this increasing to 15 times per day for northern areas.

The pair of satellites will be able to demonstrate the location of Radio Frequency (RF) emitting platforms using a combination of interferometric bearing measurements and inter-satellite Time Difference of Arrival (TDOA)approaches, Tonje Nanette Hannevik, a senior scientist with the FFI told Armada Analysis. RF emissions using a time difference of arrival approach. TDOA measures the microscopic difference in time between the moment a signal arrives at each satellite, based upon the proximity of the satellites to the emitter. Open sources note that one of the primary tasks for the satellites will be the detection of maritime navigation radars

Group Effort

A TNO written statement supplied to Armada Analysis states that this organisation is collaborating on the development of the payload with the FFI focusing on its antennas and receivers, signal processing and geolocation apparatus together with the ground processing element. The statement continued that TNO and the FFI are both responsible for the “multi-source data integration” aspect of the programme. The NLR, meanwhile, is performing the overall system design, together with assembly, integration and testing work, while NanoAvioncs is designing all aspects of the spacecraft beyond the payload.

Ms. Hannevik says that the project’s budget is jointly spilt between the Netherlands and Norway. FFI is responsible for the management of the overall project alongside the mission and ground segment. Specifically, this includes implementing the ground systems required to command, control and monitor the two satellites. FFI also has the main responsibility for processing data from the satellites. Regarding the satellites’ payload, FFI leads the instrument development and is also responsible for realisation of the instrument software and firmware. Meanwhile, the instrument electronics and mechanics are joint development efforts between the BROS partnering institutes and industrial partners. Ms. Hannevik continued that the FFI will perform flight preparations and commission the satellites, ground segment operations, the commissioning of the platforms, satellite formation initialisation and characterisation, instrument commissioning and characterisation, in-orbit calibration, data processing testing and validation.

by Dr. Thomas Withington