On Monday, February 25th, twin nanosatellites that are said to be the World’s smallest space telescopes, blasted off. The pair, referred to as the Bright Target Explorer (BRITE) were aboard an Indian Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. The small satellites were among an international collaboration of space missions that launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India.
Unlike massive telescopes that are intended to concentrate on the faintest or more distant stars, the tiny BRITE satellites will be the first telescopes with the ability to focus on the sky’s visibly brightest stars, such as the stars in the constellation of Orion, to study their changes over a period of time. While other nanosatellites have been previously launched, they’ve only been used for Earth studies and to explore spaceflight technology, which makes Brite the first nanosatellite to be used for cosmic studies.
Each of the satellites measure eight inches across weigh around 15.5 pounds a piece. Because of their compact size, the satellites can only house small telescopes, which are incapable of recording high resolution images. However, they are expected to be efficient in observing a star’s brightness and recording any changes in a star’s glow over time.
The nanosatellites are expected to be capable of monitoring it’s targets from any orbit above the stars atmosphere, to avoid disrupting the star or causing a scintillating (or twinkling) effect . Scientists are hopeful that the data received from BRITE will reveal any orbiting planets, secondary stars, starquakes (internal quivers of a star) or spots on the stars.
The tiny cubic nanosatellites were designed at the Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies. Though the space community has always been somewhat skeptical of nanosatellites, the university has been working on this technology since 2001 and took on the BRITE project in 2005. The first of the satellites were both designed and built in Toronto, and the second was sent to a partner lab in Australia for construction.While currently there are only two, the plan is to eventually have a group of 6 nanosatellites to complete the BRITE constellation. The next four are being funded by Poland and Canada, and are expected to launch next year.