Satellites, Technology and Palm Trees – It’s all about CSTARS

HySpeed Computing recently visited CSTARS to learn more about University of Miami’s remote sensing facility.

A short distance south of Miami, just down the Florida Turnpike, and surrounded by a lush tropical landscape, is an advanced satellite download and image analysis facility. CSTARS – the Center for Southeastern Tropical Advanced Remote Sensing – owned and operated by the University of Miami – provides state-of-the-art research capabilities and data access for scientists around the world.


(Image credit: CSTARS)

The CSTARS facility was purchased by the University of Miami in 2000, and after strategically phasing in new infrastructure and operations, officially launched in 2003. Present today on the 78 acre grounds are two 11.3m antennas, one 20m antenna, and several buildings containing the system controls and data processing equipment. These antennas are the links that ultimately connect data from orbiting satellites to researchers on the ground. While much of the facility has been designed to be automated, a number of scientists and staff are located onsite for handling satellite and antenna operations, conducting research investigations, and performing system maintenance.

Since its inception, imagery downloaded through the CSTARS antennas has been used as the foundation for a diverse range of scientific studies, including topics such as assessing water level changes in the Florida Everglades, investigating land subsidence trends, tracking global ocean currents, and monitoring volcanic activity. CSTARS is also notably included as a partner in one of the Department of Homeland Security Centers of Excellence, whose particular objective involves improving maritime and port security. And the facility has also played an important role in damage assessments and relief efforts associated with Hurricane Katrina, the Haiti earthquake and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Interestingly, CSTARS operates satellite communications for the U.S. Antarctic Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, thus providing a vital link between the station and the outside world. This is accomplished using GOES-3 (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite), a weather satellite launched in 1978, which ceased functioning in that regard in 1993, but was reactivated as a communications satellite in 1995. It’s a great example of resourcefulness and engineering dexterity that has enabled GOES-3 to continue operating and provide voice and data transmission with the Antarctic station.

CSTARS also represents an interesting piece of technology history in south Florida. The facility previously served as the site of the U.S. Naval Observatory Time Service Alternate Master Clock Station, which had the responsibility of providing accurate “atomic time” given a failure of the master atomic clock in Washington, D.C. During the same period it was also one of the stations for the U.S. Very Long Baseline Interferometry program, which contributed fundamental data for better understanding dynamics of the Earth’s surface. A further look through the U.S. Naval Observatory Station history reveals many other unique scientific advances were achieved at the facility through the years.

From past to present, technology has played an integral part in defining this small plot of land in south Florida. For more information on CSTARS:


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