Just yesterday (June 30th) was the 100-year anniversary of the Tunguska event, when a small piece of ice or rock exploded in the air near the Podkammenaya Tungus river in Siberia, flattening trees and scaring the heck out of people in the surrounding area. Thankfully, the blast didn’t happen in a populated area and nobody was killed, but there are many more pieces of debris floating around out there in space. If we want to do something about an asteroid headed our way, or keep astronauts safe from space debris, knowing is half the battle. Thanks to a new microsatellite being built by the Canadian Space Agency, we will soon have a better map of the objects surrounding the Earth’s orbit.
The Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) is a small satellite, about the size of a suitcase and weighing 143 pounds (65 kilograms). This puts it in a class of satellites known as “microsatellites”. Canada has already launched a successful microsatellite mission â€“ Microvariability and Oscillation of STars (MOST) â€“ that measured the light oscillation of stars to determine their age.
NEOSSat will monitor asteroids, comets and space junk in near-Earth orbit â€“ within 100 – 1240 miles (160 – 2000 km) â€“ to create a detailed survey of objects close to the Earth. It will also track other satellites, such as geosynchronous satellites, which orbit further out at 22,400 miles (~36,000 km).
NEOSSat wont’ orbit the way many satellites do â€“ around the equator of the Earth â€“ but will rather follow a polar orbit, circling from pole to pole every 50 minutes. This allows it to observe near the Sun where asteroids that orbit uniquely inside the Earth’s orbit are to be found. It will use a sunshade to observe with 45 degrees of the Sun. The polar orbit also gives the spacecraft the ability to use parallax to determine the distance to asteroids, comets and debris
Because of its location outside the Earth’s atmosphere, NEOSSat can also be small â€“ it will use only a 15cm (6 inch) telescope. The small size will make the satellite easy to pack in with another, larger satellite for launch, thus reducing the cost of the mission.
Satellites are much better at making observations because they don’t have to look through the Earth’s thick atmosphere. NEOSSat will provide a huge advantage in surveying the hundreds of thousands of objects surrounding the Earth.
Dr. Alan Hildebrand the Canada Research Chair in Planetary Science in the University of Calgary’s Department of Geoscience said,”NEOSSat being on-orbit will give us terrific skies for observing 24-hours a day, guaranteed. Keeping up with the amount of data streaming back to us will be a challenge, but it will provide us with an unprecedented view of space encompassing Earth’s orbit.”
The mission is funded by as a joint project between the Canadian Space Agency and Defense Research Development Canada.
Source: EurekAlert, NEOSSat
I started writing for Universe Today in September 2007, and have loved every second of it since! Astronomy and science are fascinating for me to learn and write about, and it makes me happy to share my passion for science with others. In addition to the science writing, I’m a full-time bicycle mechanic and the two balance nicely, as I get to work with my hands for part of the day, and my head the other part (some of the topics are a stretch for me to wrap my head around, too!).