UNCW’s first nanosatellite in orbit, capturing ocean images to track environmental changes

An image captured by UNCW’s first nanosatellite can help the scientific community measure and monitor environmental shifts. (Port City Daily photo/Courtesy UNCW)

WILMINGTON ––– UNCW’s first nanosatellite –– about the size of a loaf of bread –– is now operational. The satellite, SeaHawk-1, first exited the atmosphere on Dec. 3, 2018, aboard a SpaceX flight.

Weighing about 11 pounds, the nanosatellite’s mission is to take high-resolution images of the ocean so scientists can closely monitor coastal features.

The satellite has passed its commissioning phase, meaning it has demonstrated consistent and reliable performance to fulfill its objective, according to a university announcement.


Beginning this week, the satellite will produce about 100 images a week, free to use and access via the International Ocean Color Community (IOCC). The IOCC is an international partnership between space agencies and those who use satellite color data to study the ocean.

The high-spatial-resolution images will allow the scientific community at large to monitor coastal areas where humans stress the environment “and where there are considerable security and commercial interests.”

Color imagery captures the presence of phytoplankton, which absorb carbon dioxide. These single-cell creatures can rapidly expand and respond quickly to their surroundings. Studying the presence of phytoplankton can help scientists monitor and predict environmental changes.

Development of the satellite was made possible by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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