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Vega's fuel-free CubeSats to keep formation with wings

Written by  Wednesday, 27 September 2023 10:28
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Spain’s trio of ANSER CubeSats, due to fly on Europe’s next Vega launcher, will fly like a flock of birds in orbit – in more ways than one. Keeping in formation by following their leader, the three shoebox-sized satellite will image Iberian waters as if they are a single standard-sized mission. And they will unfurl wing-like flaps to maintain their relative positions, surfing on the scanty airflow at the top of Earth’s atmosphere.

ANSER radiometric calibration
ANSER radiometric calibration

These four spectrometers cover the visible to near infrared region, supported by the panchromatic camera, delivering 60 m spatial resolution, offering insight into the suspended contents of water bodies, including its pollution levels or the presence of toxic microorganisms such as harmful phytoplankton blooms.

Santiago notes: “In recent years CubeSats and nanosatellites under 10 kg of mass have transformed from educational tools into highly-valued spacecraft for many commercial and government sectors, favoured for their short development times, rapid assimilation of new components and miniaturised sensors, lower costs – including launch costs – and improved functionality.

“But achieving operational performance can still be a challenge for such small satellites because of their limitations in terms of available power, ground coverage and resolution, revisit times and so on. And the use of commercial-off-the-shelf components and non-space-qualified parts adds extra risk.

“So to have a real chance of achieving an operational Earth-observing mission we are leaning into distributed systems in the form of clusters and constellations, together with miniaturisation.”

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