Monday, February 18, 2013

Canadian Satellites Set to Launch: This Time for Sure!


      by Brian Orlotti

The Satish Dhawan Space Centre.
The clock is still ticking for a quartet of Canadian satellites being launched on an Indian rocket.

The Indian Space and Research Organization’s (ISRO) Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) flight C20 is currently scheduled for a February 25th, 2013 liftoff from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India. The launch has suffered both recent (February 14th & February 18th) and long-term delays as outlined most recently in the January 14th, 2013 blog post "Robotic Refueling, Sapphire, NEOSst, CanX 3a, 3b and CASSIOPE on a Falcon 9," but now seems set to finally move forward

The flight C20 payload includes the Department of National Defence (DND) Surveillance of Space (Sapphire) satellite, the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) and the CanX-3a BRIght-star Target Explorer (BRITE) and the CanX-3b (TUGsat1) micro-satellites. The Canadian satellites are a secondary payload, with space being shared with satellites from India, France, Denmark and the UK.


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Sapphire will be Canada’s first operational military satellite. Loaded with optical sensors, its primary missions will be monitoring orbiting satellites and tracking space debris. Defence Research Development Canada (DRDC) proposed Sapphire in response to China’s 2007 test of an anti-satellite missile, which left much debris in low Earth orbit and served as a stark warning to other nations that their commercial and military space assets were vulnerable to attack.

SAPPHIRE key elements. c/o E/O Portal.
Sapphire will serve as the core of the proposed Canadian Surveillance of Space System and will also link to the United States’ Space Surveillance Network. Sapphire was developed by MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates (MDA) of Richmond, BC, COM DEV International (COM DEV) of Cambridge, ON and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) of Surrey, England.

NEOSSAT will be the first space telescope designed specifically to search for near-Earth asteroids that could potentially collide with the Earth, such as what happened with the February 15th explosion of a meteorite over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk. The suitcase-sized satellite will orbit approximately 800 kilometres above our planet, searching for near-Earth asteroids that would be difficult to spot using ground-based telescopes.

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Aside from planetary defense, this data will be crucial for future government and private missions to nearby asteroids. NEOSSAT will spend half its time looking for these small objects and the other half monitoring space debris in Earth orbit that could collide with other satellites and cause major telecommunications outages. NEOSSAT was jointly developed by DRDC, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Microsat Systems Canada Inc. (MSCI) , Spectral Applied Research and COM DEV.

CanX-3. c/o UTIAS SFL.
CanX-3a, also known as BRIght-star Target Explorer (BRITE), is a CanX-class nanosatellite designed and built at the University of Toronto Institute of Aerospace Studies (UTIAS) Space Flight Laboratories (SFL). A 20 cm cube, its primary mission will be making photometric observations of some of the brightest portions of the sky to examine stars for their variability (fluctuations in brightness) as part of a two satellite constellation with CanX-3b. It is expected that these observations will be at least 10 times more precise that what can be achieved with ground-based instruments. BRITE incorporates a high-performance attitude control system, using reaction wheels developed by UTIAS SFL in collaboration with Sinclair Interplanetary of Toronto, ON. BRITE was developed by the UTIAS SFL with support from the CSA.

TUGSAT-1. c/o Gunters Space Page.
CanX-3b, more properly known as BRITE-AUSTRIA/TUGSAT-1, although reasonably considered to have been mostly "made in Canada" is funded by the Austrian Space Agency and slated to officially be the first Austrian satellite. Working with CanX-3a as part of a two satellite constellation, BRITE-AUSTRIA/TUGSAT-1 will inhabit an 800 km polar orbit and track the brightness oscillations of massive luminous stars using differential photometry. A Mission Control Centre has been set up in Graz, Austria with additional ground stations in Toronto and Vienna to be brought online later.

Also aboard PSLV flight C20 are the Satellite with ARgos and ALtika (SARAL) co-operative altimetry technology mission between the ISRO and the French Centre national d'├ętudes spatiales (CNES), the Surrey Training Research and Nanosatellite Demonstrator 1 (STRaND1), a microsat demonstrator mission utilizing commercial off-the-shelf components from standard smartphones running on the Android open source operating system and the third of a series of Aalborg University Cubesat (AAU-Cubesat3), a student project from Aalborg University in Denmark (which also just happened to use UTIAS SFL facilities for testing)

With so many space assets squeezed aboard a single launcher, Canadian and international space-watchers will certainly have their fingers crossed as the watershed launch approaches.

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