The smallest space telescopes to ever be place in orbit, that is. The twin Bright Target Explorer (BRITE) nanosatellites look like little cubes and will blast off atop an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle today from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India.
Other nanosatellites have been launched into space, and near space, before, they have been mainly used to study the Earth or various other research. The BRITE satellites will be the first nanosatellites to peer into the cosmos. Each satellite is less than 8 inches (20 centimeters) wide and weigh less than 15.5 pounds (7 kilograms). Once in orbit, they are expeted to observe the brightest stars in the night sky.
“BRITE is expected to demonstrate that nanosatellites are now capable of performance that was once thought impossible for such small spacecraft,” said Cordell Grant, manager of satellite systems for the Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS), where the satellites were designed.
The nanosatellites can only fit small telescopes, so they won’t be capturing amazing high-resolution images of the cosmos, but they will be able to observe and record changes in a star’s brightness over time.
The data collected from the BRITE satellites will help scientists find spots on the star, an orbiting planet or secondary star, or “starquakes” caused by oscillations within the star itself.
These small satellites can be built faster and at a lower cost than their larger counterparts. Also, they can be added to the launch payload of existing missions without adding to the cost of the fuel needed to achieve orbit.
The only drawback that I can foresee is the addition of more debris in orbit. The nanosatellites will hopefully contain enough fuel to move them into a decaying orbit back to Earth. Otherwise, more junk to deal with in orbit.
– Ex astris, scientia –
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