The launch this evening is going to push the frontiers of the space technology with two nano satellites. The BRITE nano satellites are 20-centimetre aluminum cubes, about the size of a lunch box - the smallest astronomical satellite ever built. It weighs slightly less than seven kilograms and contains a telescope about 20 centimetres long. Their primary task is to observe the stars that are most visible from Earth, which we commonly use to connect the dots in constellations.
Solar cells on the outside can generate the 10 watts of power needed to run the devices as they orbit Earth every 100 minutes and measure the brightness of those stars to learn more about their inner workings. Despite their prominence in our sky, these brighter stars are poorly studied objects in space.
The BRITE satellites have been in production since 2005, and are part of a complex international scientific relationship that sees most of the funding for this portion of the project come from Austrian sources, while much of the technological expertise comes from Canada.
According to Cordell Grant "we're showing that you can do really exciting things in space without the big budgets that people tend to associate with space programs." Grant is satellite systems manager at the Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies and the two nano-satellites were designed at his lab.
Grant makes sense when you compare the cost of space technology. While an International Space Station comes for nearly $150 billion, the nano-satellites cost between $1 million and $2 million each.
The 44.4-metre tall Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle-C20 with a lift-off weight of 229.7 tonnes will carry the 407-kg Indo-French satellite SARAL (Satellite with ARGOS and ALTIKA) as the primary luggage and six other satellites as piggy-back.
The launch will also be sending up the STRaND-1 (Surrey Training, Research, and Nanosatellite Demonstrator). The STRaND-1 is the world's first 'smart phone satellite' carrying satellite. It has Google Nexus One phone running on Android operating system. Once all the operating systems of the satellite have been checked out, key system functions will be transferred to the phone to take control and operate the satellite.
This satellite will also be measuring response to sound in space. It will be broadcasting the sound of human screams into space to see if anyone nearby can hear them. This is to test the oft-repeated phrase that in space, nobody can hear you scream.