Finnish company launches nanosatellite with tiny hyperspectral camera to monitor climate change
HELSINKI, Finland - Nanosatellites being launched into orbit are a frequent-enough occurrence. As of late 2018, more than 900 nanosatellites, which weigh between 1 kg (2 pounds) and 10 kg (22 pounds), have been launched into space in total. However, it is interesting to observe how well and how quickly companies can miniaturize cutting-edge equipment. Last month, a nanosatellite created by Finish companies RSL, Reaktor, and VTT - dubbed "Hello World" - was put into orbit with a tiny hyperspectral camera.
Hyperspectral imaging – the simultaneous collection of the optical spectrum at each point in an image – was feasible only with larger satellites before. Hello World, which has a primary design function to monitor and manage the effects of climate change, uses hyperspectral imaging to collect nearly real-time data on the state of our planet.
“This particular type of imaging data makes it possible to monitor the status of carbon sink resources. It also enables optimization of food production and reducing environmental load caused by agriculture, providing a way to sense water irrigation needs and optimize the use of fertilizers in fields,” says Anna Rissanen, Research Team Leader at VTT.
The infrared wavelength region shown by the hyperspectral imager contains a significant amount of data. That data can be used to recognize ground targets such as fields, forests, mines or built infrastructure and analyze their features based on unique spectral fingerprints. Such features could be related to the presence of chemicals like fertilizers, biomass content or rock species, for example. Hyperspectral imagers can also monitor vegetation health and the composition of greenhouse gases.
“This new technology will allow us to react to global environmental changes in near real time. That opens up many new business opportunities as well as ways to combat climate change,” says Tuomas Tikka, CEO of Reaktor Space Lab, Reaktor’s portfolio company that specializes in building advanced nanosatellites for space-based services.
The infrared hyperspectral imager on board the Hello World nanosatellite is a small, lightweight, 2D-snapshot tunable spectral imager operating in the short-wave infrared spectra (900–1400 nm). The nanosatellite compatible hyperspectral imager built by VTT was launched on board the Aalto-1 satellite in June 2017, demonstrating hyperspectral imaging for visible and VNIR range (500 - 900 nm). Now, the technology has successfully been extended to cover also the infrared range. In the future, the team believes that this hyperspectral imaging technology can bring completely new solutions for space exploration.
The joint project was started in 2016 and was launched this November. Reaktor Space Lab has a website that updates detailing Hello World's telemetry data every time the satellite passes over its Helsinki, Finland ground station. In addition, its real-time orbit information is displayed on the site.
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