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Nanosatellite to take up position between Earth and Mars

The imaging spectrometer in the Aalto-1 satellite may in future provide images of asteroids.

The joint project in which Aalto University, the University of Helsinki and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd are taking part is an ambitious one. The European Space Agency (ESA) and the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) are currently planning the launch of the AIM spacecraft to a destination between Earth and Mars with the mission to study a binary asteroid by the name of Didymos. A binary asteroid is an asteroid surrounded by smaller asteroids that orbit it as moons. At this time, it seems that there will be room for two Cubesat nanosatellites on the spacecraft.

'We are taking part in an international competition. So far, 5 satellites have been selected from a broad-scoped group and by summer they will have narrowed it down to one or two nanosatellites,' Antti Kestilä, a satellite systems engineer and doctoral candidate explains.

An imaging spectrometer developed by VTT will be the satellite's scientific payload. Experience gained with the Aalto-1 and PICASSO satellites is being utilised in the design of the imaging spectrometer. If all goes exactly to plan and the Aalto-1 satellite is successfully launched in summer 2016, the imaging spectrometer will provide valuable information on space. The imaging spectrometer on the Aalto-1 satellite will provide images of the Earth in over 100 spectra i.e. colours and analyse such things as the quality of any detected water and the types of vegetation. This same type of technology, which is already at an advanced stage of development, is utilised in the imaging of asteroids.

'This is the first mission for nanosatellites out this far in space between planets in a completely new environment. Our group has a firm belief in the capacity of nanosatellites in carrying out such a large and significant mission.

In addition to the ESA's AIM spacecraft, NASA will send the DART spacecraft to crash into the smaller Didymos asteroid, after which the AIM, together with the nanosatellites, will examine the effects of the collision.

'If the mission succeeds, we will acquire important information on the development of our solar system and the composition of asteroids. Asteroids, which are small celestial bodies that orbit the sun, are still in great part a mystery to humankind.’

The mission's purpose is also to test how we can in future eliminate the threat posed by asteroids to the Earth by diverting their orbits with similar collisions.

Video of the AIM mission:

Launch in 2020

The planning of space projects of such massive scale and significance takes time. The ESA and NASA have planned a launch in 2020. The final plan for the Asteroid Impact Mission will be finalised in 2016, but before this the team that will build the nanosatellites will already have been appointed.

'We are currently preparing a preliminary plan for the satellite and its mission on the basis of which the selection will be made in June-July. The final design and construction of the satellite will likely begin late this year,' Antti confirms.

In addition to Aalto University, the University of Helsinki's responsible researchers Mikael Granvik, Antti Penttilä, Tomas Kohout and Professor Karri Muinonen are taking part in the project. The project is being headed by the working group that developed the imaging spectrometer comprising Project Manager Antti Näsilä, Head of Research Heikki Saari and researcher Kai Viherkanto. In addition to Mr Kestilä, other participants from Aalto include Tuomas Tikka, project manager for the satellite and doctoral candidate and Professor Esa Kallio.

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