Move over, Chris Hadfield: Your space has been invaded by a tiny fleet of homegrown sentinels.
Four small satellites - two of which are Canadian-owned and another two developed in Canada but paid for by the government of Austria -- were successfully lofted into orbit Monday atop an Indian rocket. The rocket blasted off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India, at 6:01 p.m. local time, 7:31 a.m. ET.
Ground control teams have confirmed that contact has been established with all four satellites, which appear to be in good working order. The main purpose of the launch was to place a large Indo-French satellite called SARAL into orbit, where it will monitor variations in sea level across the world's oceans. In addition to SARAL and the Canadian/Austrian satellites, the rocket carried one small satellite each from the U.K. and Denmark.
The Canadian content included:
- NEOSSat, a joint project of the Canadian Space Agency and Defence Research and Development Canada. Its mission includes searching for asteroids on trajectories that bring them closer to the Sun than Earth. Such objects are typically difficult to spot with ground-based telescopes because of their positions on the sky relative to the Sun. It will also be used to track satellites in orbit around Earth.
- Sapphire, Canada’s first operational military satellite. It will conduct what the Department of National Defence calls “space situation awareness”, precision tracking of satellite and debris orbiting between 6,000 and 40,000 kilometres from Earth.
- Two toaster-sized “nanosatellites” that will measure tiny changes in the brightness and temperature of some of the brightest stars in the sky. They are part of the BRITE project, which will eventually include six satellites, two each from Austria, Canada and Poland. The Canadian-funded pair is expected to launch aboard a Ukrainian-Russian Dnepr rocket next year.
"We had first contact with NEOSSat at 8:39 EST this morning," Canadian Space Agency spokesperson Julie Simard enthused. "The status of the satellite is nominal."
All of the satellites are now in a commissioning phase - a shakedown period that typically lasts a few months, depending on the satellite. Then their various missions will begin.
Coverage of the launch was followed closely - and nervously - by the various teams and contractors involved with the four satellites, including Microsat Systems Canada Inc. of Mississauga, Ontario, where NEOSSat was built.
"The launch was perfect," said president David Cooper.
Cordell Grant, manager of the nanosatellite program at the University of Toronto's Space Flight Laboratory, home of the BRITE project, said the two nanosatellites were orbiting within a few kilometres of each other following this morning's launch. They are expected to separate over time because of slight differences in their orbits.