Small satellites offer astronomers 'PC' access to the Universe

Apr 07, 2006

Small satellites are now ready to open up new avenues in astronomy, according to a presentation on Friday 7th April at the RAS National Astronomy Meeting in Leicester. Rapid advances in the capabilities of satellites smaller than a domestic washing-machine mean that they now have the pointing stability and accurate positioning needed to carry astronomical instruments, such as ultraviolet telescopes.

Stuart Eves of Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd (SSTL) said, “We see small satellites as the ‘PCs of astronomy’. Like personal computers, the capabilities of our satellites have moved forward very rapidly over the past decade. Whilst there will always be a role for the big ‘mainframe computer’ satellites, which can carry the huge mirrors and complex pointing equipment needed for some astronomical experiments, small satellites can be developed very quickly and the costs are relatively modest. This means that astronomical experiments can be designed, launched and be delivering results in under two years.”

SSTL has already carried out studies for the European Space Agency for a Mars sample return mission and a Venus entry probe but the company is now keen to work with the astronomical community on probing the depths of the Universe.

“Our satellites can now provide high-precision pointing using an automatic star camera system to determine the orientation of the platform, large amounts of on-board data storage and high data downlink rates to return the observations from the sensors as quickly as possible,” said Eves. “We are also now able to operate several satellites orbiting in formation and could develop small satellite constellations for experiments that need rapid responses, e.g. studying gamma-ray bursts, or three-dimensional investigations of an area of space, e.g. monitoring the solar wind.”

Don Pollacco of Queen’s University Belfast said, “Small satellites are useful in that they can be dedicated to just one or two instruments. This means that tried and tested instruments can be launched into space to study a specific problem relatively cheaply. It makes sense that the UK’s technical expertise in small satellites should be combined with the expertise of the British astronomical community.”

The relatively low costs involved mean that small satellites can be funded by a single country. Canada’s MOST satellite, which was launched in 1993 and has carried out high-precision photometry of stars, has paved the way for a much larger contribution to astronomy from small-scale missions.

Source: Royal Astronomical Society

Explore further: Computer model shows moon's core surrounded by liquid and it's caused by Earth's gravity

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Discover the "X-factor" of NASA's Webb telescope

Jul 24, 2014

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray observatory have something in common: a huge test chamber used to simulate the hazards of space and the distant glow of starlight. Viewers can learn about ...

NASA mission to reap bonanza of earth-sized planets

Jul 15, 2014

Set to launch in 2017, NASA's Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS) will monitor more than half a million stars over its two-year mission, with a focus on the smallest, brightest stellar objects.

Recommended for you

Comet Jacques makes a 'questionable' appearance

11 hours ago

What an awesome photo! Italian amateur astronomer Rolando Ligustri nailed it earlier today using a remote telescope in New Mexico and wide-field 4-inch (106 mm) refractor. Currently the brightest comet in ...

Image: Our flocculent neighbour, the spiral galaxy M33

12 hours ago

The spiral galaxy M33, also known as the Triangulum Galaxy, is one of our closest cosmic neighbours, just three million light-years away. Home to some forty billion stars, it is the third largest in the ...

Titan offers clues to atmospheres of hazy planets

12 hours ago

When hazy planets pass across the face of their star, a curious thing happens. Astronomers are not able to see any changes in the range of light coming from the star and planet system.

Having fun with the equation of time

12 hours ago

If you're like us, you might've looked at a globe of the Earth in elementary school long before the days of Google Earth and wondered just what that strange looking figure eight thing on its side was.

User comments : 0