19 January 2011 – The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has officially signed an agreement to support BRIght Target Explorer (BRITE) Constellation by contributing two satellites targeting a launch in 2012. The two Canadian satellites will join four other satellites funded by the Austrian and Polish governments. The BRITE mission is a space astronomy mission involving multiple satellites in low Earth orbit that will observe the most luminous stars in our galaxy. The six satellites will use three-centimeter aperture optical telescopes housed in SFL’s Generic Nanosatellite Bus. Each seven-kilogram satellite will be equipped with SFL’s high performance three-axis attitude control system and incorporate a star tracker for accurate attitude determination. “We’re very pleased that CSA is providing support to this astronomy mission of international importance. The additional satellites will provide a tremendous advantage in science data quality and allow our Canadian science team to collaborate on an even footing with their Austrian and Polish counterparts,“ says Dr. Robert E. Zee, SFL Director. “The fantastic scientific basis for the mission, the surprisingly low cost of the satellites, together with pre-existing support from Austria and Poland have created outstanding value to Canadians.”
BRITE Constellation will use six satellites each observing a given stellar target field at different times to measure low frequency brightness oscillations in luminous stars. The satellites will have different optical filters in order to obtain temperature information. These measurements will uncover the characteristics of the stars and help answer questions related to the origin of the universe and creation of heavy elements that formed the planets and life on Earth. The approach is known as asteroseismology – the same approach used by Canada’s first space telescope, MOST (Microvariability and Oscillations of STars), to characterize stars similar to our sun.
The BRITE satellites will be among the highest performing nanosatellites in the world, with unprecedented pointing capability. “BRITE will illustrate that great science and important missions can now be accomplished using miniature satellites on a shoestring budget,” says Zee. “More and more applications can benefit from miniature satellite technology. SFL continues to make leading-edge advances in miniature satellite capabilities at shockingly low cost.” The BRITE mission, including all six satellites, is expected to be approximately 300 times cheaper than the Hubble Space Telescope. The Austrian satellites are expected to launch first in 2011 followed by the first Polish satellite shortly thereafter. Subsequently, the Canadian satellites will launch in 2012 along with the second Polish satellite. Science data collection will begin immediately with the launch of the Austrian satellites, while the entire constellation should be fully operational by 2013.