- 8. Nov 2023
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TRISAT-R: the first image of Earth through a 2-mm lens
The European Space Agency (ESA) has chosen the image of Earth captured from the TRISAT-R satellite 6000 kilometres away for publication on its website as the “Technology image of the week”. According to ESA, this is the first image of Earth from such a small camera.
TRISAT-R is a Slovene nanosatellite mission. On 13 July 2022, the University of Maribor, together with the Slovenian company SkyLabs and the European Space Agency ESA successfully launched the TRISAT-R satellite with the VEGA-C launch vehicle into Medium Earth orbit at an altitude of 6000 km. Aboard the TRISAT-R satellite are several different scientific instruments for measuring ionizing radiation in this most radiation demanding Earth orbit, including instruments provided by CERN, ESA, SkyLabs, and the University of Maribor.
The TRISAT-R satellite is continuously flying through the heart of the ionosphere and the inner Van Allen radiation belt, one of the most radiation demanding environments in space. With several software upgrades performed in orbit, the mission has been stabilized and is daily providing useful radiation data. With more than 16 months of successful operation, the TRISAT-R mission is showcasing how highly miniaturized and energy efficient technology can be used in the form of cost-effective nanoprobes for real-time environmental sensing – for applications like Space Weather monitoring – opening up opportunities beyond traditional Earth observation applications.
“Envision a highly miniaturised camera, less than two cubic millimetres in size, embarked on a journey aboard the TRISAT-R nanosatellite, that is flying in the Middle Earth orbit, at an altitude of 6000 kilometres. This tiny marvel has captured a photograph of a very big object — our beautiful planet Earth,” says dr. Iztok Kramberger, Chief Innovation Officer at SkyLabs and Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science of the University of Maribor.
“On board the spacecraft, there are two miniaturized cameras serving as technology demonstration for future advancements towards cutting-edge attitude determination and control systems. While the primary focus of our experiment was capturing the Black Sun Effect caused by the pixel spill over on the camera sensor during Sun imaging, we also succeeded in taking this striking photo of our beloved Earth,” elaborates dr. Kramberger and further explains that the photo is of very low resolution since the highly miniaturized cameras were not intended to perform Earth imaging. Furthermore, the spacecraft is using only low-power active magnetorquer control, making it difficult to achieve good aim.
“Both miniaturized cameras are directly exposed to high radiation without any protecting shielding. We therefore not only managed to design and produce our first space application integrated circuit in less than 18 months, amid the well-known semiconductor crisis, but also to successfully demonstrate its remarkable capabilities enabling our highly integrated technologies to operate even in the most radiation-demanding environments,” concludes dr. Iztok Kramberger and adds: “By creating new breakthrough technologies and technological development as well as maintaining knowledge in Slovenia, we ensure sustainable development from the perspective of science, education and economy.”
This year, the University of Maribor has signed a Cooperation Agreement with the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) with the purpose of processing, analysing and presenting these extremely important data that are becoming increasingly crucial for the broader understanding of space weather. Beside the already mentioned instruments aboard the TRISAT-R satellite, modern experimental technologies are also installed that serve as innovative technological demonstrations for further research and development towards sustainable development of new Slovene space technologies.
The publication of the image of Earth on the website of the European Space Agency (ESA) in the section “Technology image of the week” marks another great success of the University of Maribor ad its employees and certainly a great recognition for the effort of everyone who participated in the TRISAT-R project. The news about the first image of Earth from such a small camera published by ESA on its website on 8 November 2023 was covered by all national printed and digital media as well as by numerous foreign digital media, including the British PHYS.ORG which is part of the globally recognised online network ScienceX and reaches more than 10 million readers a month, the American website for photography PETAPIXEL, South American digital media, such as INFOBAE, BIO BIO CHILE and NOTICIAS IMPORTANTES, the Spanish EUROPRESS, the French NEWS DAY FR, the American NATION WORLD NEWS and many others.
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