small Belgian satellite takes VTT’s remote sensing technology into space
The European Space Agency (ESA) has launched 42 small satellites aboard the Vega launch vehicle. The launch took place on September 2, local time, from a space center in French Guiana. One of the launchable nanocatellites, PICASSO, will take into space the advanced remote sensing technology developed and built by VTT, which will be used to perform scientific measurements in the upper layers of the atmosphere.
Weighing just 3.5 kg, the PICASSO, whose name refers to the PICo-Satellite for Atmospheric and Space Science Observations, is the first CubeSat nanosetellite mission of the Royal Belgian Institute of Space Aeronautics (BIRA-IASB). On its ride, two measuring devices for atmospheric research go into space. The most important payload of the satellite is VISION (Visible Spectral Imager for Occultation and Nightglow) built by VTT. VISION is a direct further development of the spectral cameras flying with the Aalto-1 and Reaktor Hello World nanosatellites. In addition, another SLP (Sweeping Langmuir Probe) sensor developed by BIRA-IASB focusing on ionospheric plasma measurements is included.
The exceptional space-saving devices that come with PICASSO are made by their unprecedented combination of scientific ability and small size. The purpose of the mission is to demonstrate the potential of reducing the size of equipment in the field of remote sensing. The quality of the data collected by these new miniature instruments in relation to their costs allows for a high level of scientific research that nanosatellites have not previously been able to.
The VISION, developed by VTT, is a compact imaging spectrometer for atmospheric gas measurements. Its camera is capable of shooting in freely selectable narrow wavelength bands in the visible light (430 to 800 nm) range of the sun. As sunlight travels through the Earth’s atmosphere at different altitudes during sunrise and sunset, it is possible to measure the vertical distribution of ozone in the stratosphere. At the same time, VISION is also able to determine the atmospheric temperature profile by monitoring the deformation of the solar image caused by the refraction of light.
The mission, which lasts about two years, involves partners from all over Europe.
PICASSO will orbit the Earth at an altitude of about 530 kilometers and is expected to collect data from about two to two years, depending on how long the electronics will withstand the demanding conditions of space. Eventually, the satellite falls into the atmosphere and is destroyed. During this time, the satellite with its payload is able to gather a wealth of valuable scientific information. In addition, the mission will serve as an indicator of the current research capabilities of CubeSat nanosatellites and provide valuable lessons for the development of future small science operations.
PICASSO is an international cooperation project of the European Space Agency (ESA), led by the Royal Belgian Institute of Space Aeronautics (BIRA-IASB), in which, in addition to VTT, AAC Clyde Space Ltd (UK) and Center Spatial de Liège (Belgium) are partners.