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Rogue radio signals sully soil satellite’s sensing

smos main.pngEurope’s moisture monitoring satellite is still having its vision clouded by illegal interference, scientists have warned.

Back in February Europe’s Soil Moisture and Ocean Salinity satellite beamed back its first pictures. But the ‘SMOS’ mission of measurement is still being hindered by illegal radio frequency transmitters, say the researchers running the mission.

The team first warned that its instruments were being “bothered by human radio emissions” back at the end of March. These transmitters – such as radio or TV networks – are operating on parts of the spectrum supposedly reserved for research.

Military systems have also proven problematic. “You can see a whole arc of antennas in the US and Canada which was used during the Cold War to detect missile launches and is still active,” SMOS principle investigator Yann Kerr, of the Center for the Study of the Biosphere from Space (CESBIO), told French science website Kwantic back in March.

smos before.png smos after.png

Since then the team has had some success in shutting down rogue radio rascals. The SMOS blog noted in March that a huge interference source south of Madrid in Spain had been shut down. However it quickly became apparent that there was another illegal source in the same area. In late April the team announced that even more interfering sources had been shut down (before and after image details left).

Southern Europe is not yet radio-clean though, and Africa and Asia are still big problems, according to a new article from the BBC. “They are damaging the signal over much larger areas, affecting a good part of Africa. And this is one of the areas of the world where information on soil moisture for better water resources management is crucial. So it’s really a hindrance,” Kerr says.

The real problem, mission manager Susanne Mecklenburg told the BBC, is that SMOS is the first ‘L band’ mssion in space. Now that the US is launching two such missions and China is also planning to join the part, there will be more pressure on those who accidentally hinder our moisture monitoring satellites.

Image top: suspected interference as of April / CESBIO.

Image lower: CESBIO.

[Headline corrected 6/5]


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