GLIMPS is a 12-month project kicked-off in November 2020 and led by Deimos Space UK. It is funded by the European Space Agency under the Open Space Innovation Platform (OSIP). The platform enables the submission of novel ideas for space technology and applications, to allow ESA to invest in new unconventional activities to foster advancement in the space industry.
Deimos Space UK proposed the idea of monitoring microplastics in the ocean through the use of a passive bistatic remote sensing technique called GNSS-Reflectometry, and the idea was successful and selected by ESA.
The idea is built upon the assumption that microplastics dampens the waves and the roughness at the surface of the oceans, and this reduction in roughness can be sensed by radars. Among the different types of radar-based remote sensing techniques, GNSS-Reflectometry is particularly suitable, being the perfect example of NewSpace approach which only requires cheap, lightweight and low-power receivers to be implemented, since is exploits existing GNSS transmitters of opportunity. There is a wealth of existing GNSS transmitters, and the nature of GNSS-R receivers makes it easy to build a constellation of them, addressing the need for high space-time sampling that is crucial for monitoring microplastics from space efficiently.
The goal of GLIMPS is to produce global maps of microplastics concentration in the oceans using multi mission GNSS-R data, and algorithms based on machine learning, to deliver useful information on microplastics location and distribution, which would be complementary to that provided by in situ measurements and ocean circulation models. GLIMPS will also consider what benefits can be gained for this application from working in the future with the new generation of GNSS signals.