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India launch puts Canadian microsats into orbit

An asteroid-hunter in a suitcase

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With India’s successful PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) lift-off on February 26, Canada is now boasting the deployment of the world’s first dedicated asteroid-hunting satellite.

Actually, its NEOSSat – Near-Earth Object Surveillance satellite – microsatellite will also be surveying space junk from its 100-minute, 800 km altitude orbit. As well as contributing to Canada’s High Earth Orbit Surveillance System, the satellite will take images in the direction of the sun to try and identify asteroids.

NEOSSat’s asteroid mission focuses on a group knows as “Aten” objects. These have a semi-major axis of less than one astronomical unit, putting most of their orbits between Earth and the sun. Many such asteroids will have orbits that intersect with Earth’s.

This class of asteroids can’t be spotted by ground-based telescopes: they’re rendered invisible by light scattering in the atpmosphere.

Images coming from NEOSSat will be analysed at the University of Calgary.

As well as NEOSSat, the Indian launcher carried two BRITE-class microsatellites funded by Austria and designed in Canada. The 7 kg, 20-cm cubes will “photometrically measure low-level oscillations and temperature variations in stars brighter than visual magnitude” more accurately than is possible from terrestrial telescopes.

Also on board the launch were Sapphire, another Canadian space junk observer that will contribute data to the US Space Surveillance Network; and the Indo-French SARAL oceanographic satellite. ®

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