Canadian Scientists To Launch World's Smallest Telescope Monday
February 24, 2013

Canadian Scientists To Launch World’s Smallest Telescope Monday

Lee Rannals for — Your Universe Online

The world's smallest space telescope will be launching on Monday, aiming to push the boundaries of astronomy.

The telescope satellite was designed, assembled and deployed fast and relatively cheap, by the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) of the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies (UTIAS).

Each of the BRIght Target Explorer (BRITE) satellites weigh less than 15 pounds, and are part of a new mission demonstrating that these space telescopes can be developed quickly, by a small team, at a cost within reach of many universities.

Nano-satellites like BRITE had previously just been used to study the earth and experiment with new technologies. However, scientists who built the future space dwellers say that BRITE has the potential to open an entirely new market for low-cost high-performance satellites.

BRITE is the first nano-satellite mission intended for astronomy and the first-ever astronomy constellation of any size. Previously, the MOST satellite held the record for the smallest astronomy satellite, and it was also designed and built in part by SFL and UTIAS.

MOST launched in 2003, and is still operating. It was the first entirely built Canadian satellite for astronomy, and weighed in at 116 pounds, about 10 times that of BRITE. In comparison, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope weighs about 24,250 pounds.

“BRITE is expected to demonstrate that nano-satellites are now capable of performance that was once thought impossible for such small spacecraft,” Cordell Grant, Manager of Satellite Systems for the Space Flight Laboratory at UTIAS, said in a statement. “A nano-satellite can take anywhere from six months to a few years to develop and test, but we typically aim for two years or less.”

BRITE is not intended to snap beautiful images like Hubble does, but will provide an opportunity to observe stars, and record changes in their brightness over time. These changes could be caused by spots on the star, a planet or another star orbiting the star. For these types of observations, telescopes need to be in orbit to avoid the twinkling effect we see on Earth due to the way light filters through the atmosphere.

With the atmosphere out of the way, a very small telescope in space is capable of performing more accurate measurements of a star's brightness than a very large one within the Earth's atmosphere.

Scientists currently use NASA's Kepler Space Telescope to study the brightness of a star. With Kepler, they are hoping to find other planetary systems. Earlier this week, scientists said they had used Kepler to discover a new planetary system that hosted the smallest planet discovered so far, Kepler-37b.

BRITE will be focusing its sites on the brightest stars in the sky, including those that make up prominent constellations, such as Orion the Hunter.

Within a few years, BRITE will become a constellation of six satellites, each paired up with another satellite so they can watch the sky in different colors to provide another layer of data.