September 9, 2020

VTT’s spectral imager launched into space

A satellite orbiting the Earth.
The PICASSO nanosatellite is expected to stay on orbit for a year or two, depending on how its electronics withstand the conditions in space.
Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy

The European Space Agency (ESA) launched 42 tiny satellites into space on 2 September, including one carrying remote sensing technology developed and built by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

VTT’s spectral imager (VISION) was carried into space by PICASSO, a 3.5-kilo university-class satellite built for ESA by the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy. The primary payload of the satellite, the imager will be used to take scientific measurements of events such as occultation and nightglow in the upper strata of the atmosphere.

“Integrating atmospheric measurement instruments into a satellite the size of a carton of milk is challenging, but the scientific opportunities are massive,” said Antti Näsilä, a research team leader at VTT.

The satellite also carries a probe for measuring plasma in the ionosphere developed by the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy.

Both instruments exceptional in terms of their scientific performance relative to their cost and size: the high-quality data they generate is expected to unlock research opportunities the likes of which were not possible with earlier nanosatellites.

The imager is capable of capturing the visible light of the sun in freely selectable narrow wavelength bands between 430 and 800 nanometres and measure the vertical distribution of ozone in the atmosphere when the light passes through the atmosphere at sunrise and sunset. It is also able to determine the temperature profile of the atmosphere by tracking the deformation of the solar image caused by stratospheric refraction.

Johanna Tamminen, a research professor at the Finnish Meteorological Institute, pointed out that even though the ozone layer is gradually recovering at a height of 20–30 kilometres, its monitoring remains vital due to its link to the climate crisis.

PICASSO will gather data at an altitude of roughly 530 kilometres for a year or two before falling into the atmosphere.

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