Three Canadian satellite missions launched into orbit this morning, including the first satellite designed to track large asteroids, a pair of satellites that are the world's smallest space telescopes, and Canada's first military satellite.
An Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle lifted off at 7:31 a.m. EST (12:31 GMT) from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, carrying a total of 7 satellites into polar orbit. Among the seven were three Canadian missions: BRITE Constellation, NEOSSat, and SAPPHIRE.
The twin nano-satellites (nanosats) of the BRITE (BRIght Target Explorer) Constellation mission — each about the size of a car battery — are the smallest space telescopes ever put into orbit, and they are part of the first space astronomy mission to be performed using nano-satellites. The mission of BRITE-CA1 and BRITE-CA2 is to watch the brightest stars in the sky and record surface vibrations caused by sound waves produced deep inside the stars. The study of these vibrations, called asteroseismology, can tell scientists what processes are going on inside the stars and what heavier elements might be present. When BRITE is completed, it will be composed of a 'constellation' of six nanosats, two each from Canada, Austria and Poland, which will communicate with the surface via four stations — two in Austria, one in Poland and one at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS).
NEOSSat is Canada's contribution to keeping the Earth safe from meteors and asteroids. It is the first satellite put into orbit specifically to search for and track near-Earth asteroids. It will circle the planet every 100 minutes or so, scanning both ahead of and behind the Earth as it orbits the Sun, searching for objects that may have a chance of impacting on us in the future.
"The near-earth asteroids are ones that orbit around the sun much like the Earth orbits around the Sun," said William Harvey, a senior project director at the Canadian Space Agency. "They could cross the Earth's orbit. The difficulty with that, as of course these objects are quite energetic — travelling anywhere from 10 to 75 miles per second — is they could cause us a lot of damage if they came in contact with the Earth."
This may seem like a 'too-little-too-late' project, given the meteor and asteroid activity we've seen over the past two weeks, however, this satellite won't be able to pick up smaller objects, like asteroid 2012 DA14 or the one that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia more than a week ago. With NEOSSaat, Canada is looking to defend the entire planet, as the satellite is designed to spot and track the large asteroids out there (like Apophis) that pose a danger to the whole of human civilization.
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At the same time, as part of Defence Research and Development Canada's (DRDC's) High Earth Orbit Surveillance System (HEOSS) project, it will also be scanning the space directly around the Earth, tracking space debris and other satellites, in an effort to keep near-Earth orbit collision-free and safe for everyone.
Joining NEOSSat on its search of nearby space is SAPPHIRE, Canada's first military satellite. This Canadian Forces project will form the core of the Canadian Space Surveillance System, joining the U.S. military's Space Surveillance System in tracking orbiting satellites and space junk between 6,000 kms and 40,000 kms up, to help prevent collisions that could spray even more debris throughout nearby space and make future missions into near-Earth orbit even more dangerous.
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