NEOSSat: Canada Looks to Protect the Planet

NEOSSat (Photo by Janice Lang)And you thought the Canadian Space Agency was only good for sending up Twitter-friendly astronauts? Well, ha! In the wake of this week’s NEO fever, with asteroids racing by, and rocks raining down from the sky, NEOSSat, the Near-Earth Object Surveillance Satellite currently under construction:

Slated for launch in 2013, it will circle the globe every 100 minutes, scanning space near the Sun to pinpoint asteroids that may someday pass near our planet. NEOSSat will also sweep the skies in search of satellites and space debris as part of Canada’s commitment to keeping orbital space safe for everyone. NEOSSat applies key technology already demonstrated in Canada’s very successful MOST satellite.

The suitcase-sized NEOSSat will orbit approximately 800 kilometres high above the Earth, searching for near-Earth asteroids that are difficult to spot using ground-based telescopes. Because of its lofty location, it is not limited by the day-night cycle, and can operate 24/7. The hundreds of images that NEOSSat will generate per day will be downloaded and analyzed by the University of Calgary’s NEOSSat science operations centre.

PSLV-CA launch at SriharikotaThe projected launch date is looming, as February 25 draws nigh. The PSLV-CA rocket will launch from the ISRO Satish Dhawan Space Centre at Sriharikota, and carry six satellites to their orbital destinations. Along with NEOSSat, launch C20 will include the French-Indian SARAL (ocean surface topography), Canadian Sapphire (orbital debris surveillance), multinational BRITE nanosatellite fleet (stellar observation), a Austrian companion satellite called UniBRITE (stellar observatation), and the Dutch AAUSAT 3 (AIS maritime navigation).

It’s a big launch, with much prestige on the line for the Indian Space Research Organization.

But the 143 lb. (65 kg) NEOSSat might well prove to be the celebrity among them. Andrew Fazekas of National Geographic News explains:

Even though the Near-Earth Object Space Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) might find it challenging to hunt down relatively smaller size meteors, like the one that crashed in Russia last week, it will be the first telescope in orbit dedicated to keeping tabs on what’s buzzing around Earth.

In addition to keeping an eye out for space rocks, NEOSSat will pull double duty by monitoring traffic among the increasing crowd of orbiting satellites—guarding against collisions between wayward space junk.

In recent years there have been a few head-on collisions between orbiting satellites and several near misses with the International Space Station, making this a concern for satellite providers and space agencies ….

…. Outfitted with a special sunshade, the telescope will be pointed precisely within a 45 degree angle of the sun in order to continuously snap hundred-second-long exposures that the team hopes will eventually reveal at least 50 percent of the asteroids half a mile (one kilometer) across or larger within Earth’s orbit around the sun.

And at a mere twelve million dollars, NEOSSat might prove to be one of the best astronomical investments in a long time. The CSA has every right to be proud of what they’re trying to do. The challenge, of course, is getting the thing into orbit, and it should be noted that ISRO is no farm-league operation; the PSLV-CA has a perfect launch record, putting thirty-nine satellites into orbit since 2007.

Mark your calendars and start the clocks. ISRO C20 launches in less than eighty hours.


One response to “NEOSSat: Canada Looks to Protect the Planet

  1. Very proud of Canada for doing this! Though still concerned over the size-detection limitations, I don’t think that there are enough (or really any…) satellites looking for the small, 10’s of metre-sized asteroids that could be potentially dangerous.

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