New satellite to watch out for earth-threatening asteroids

July 25th, 2008 - 1:52 pm ICT by IANS  

Quebec, July 25 (IANS) Canada is planning to launch a satellite in 2010 for tracking wayward asteroids that may pose a threat to Earth. The Near Earth Object Surveillance Satellite (NEOSSat) would have a 15-cm telescope and weigh about 65 kg. It is designed to hunt for asteroids and monitor satellites orbiting the Earth, reported.

Telescopes on ground suffer from limitations even when skies are clear as the atmosphere makes it harder to spot the faint light signals from asteroids.

NEOSSat reduces the background interference to one tenth of that on Earth as it would be positioned roughly 700 km above the atmosphere.

“That’s why a small telescope in space can be a lot more comparable to a large telescope on the ground,” said Alan Hildebrand, planetary scientist at the University of Calgary and head of the asteroid search project for NEOSSat.

The $12 million microsatellite would also keep an eye on Earth’s satellite traffic for both US and Canadian space commands, swivelling around to target space rocks and satellites hundreds of times a day using a revolutionary turning system.

Astronomers have particular interest in “near earth objects” (NEOs), as these might threaten Earth in the near or distant future. Nearby asteroids could likewise serve as targets for future spacecraft missions to probe.

NEOSSat will also shed more light on the less famous “inner earth objects” or asteroids found close to the sun within Earth’s orbit, mission managers said.

The satellite also has an attitude control system that allows it to turn quickly without consuming rocket fuel.

“We have to be able to point precisely at a chunk of sky for 100 seconds,” Hildebrand told “Then you want to be able to slew from one field to another as fast as possible.”

Such rapid response balances out with the need to keep the space telescope steady on its target, whether peering at rocks in the asteroid belt or tracking a moving satellite.

The microsatellite will spend half its time tracking other satellites in orbit around Earth.

“Our first and foremost goal is to demonstrate satellite tracking capability,” said Wallace, who leads the team focused on space satellite-traffic control.

NEOSSat’s ability to take on dual responsibilities points to a future where microsatellites would increasingly become the standard. The ability to use more recent technology and commercial, off-the-shelf parts has only sped up the miniaturization process, Wallace said.

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