PICASSO, the first CubeSat nanosatellite mission for the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB), will carry technology developed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Ltd. to conduct scientific studies in Earth orbit.

The Belgian satellite, whose name stands for PICo-Satellite for Atmospheric and Space Science Observation, is among the 42 satellites loaded by the European Space Agency (ESA) as a part of the latest Vega mission. The European rocket, operated by the French aerospace company Arianespace, has successfully carried all of its 53 satellites to Earth orbit after lifting off from South America's Guiana Space Center on September 2, around 9:51 PM EDT.

PICASSO Satellite
(Photo: ESA Technology Twitter Page)

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PICASSO's Mission

PICASSO is equipped with the latest in sensing technology developed and fabricated by the state-owned VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland. The 3.5-kilogram nanosatellite carries two specialized instruments for taking scientific measurements up in the Earth's atmosphere.


The first, and most important payload for the PICASSO satellite, is its Visible Spectral Imager for Occultation and Nightglow (VISION), designed to take sun occultation measurements - occultation referring to events when an object is hidden by another between it and its observer. VISION, according to sources, is an improvement on the spectrometers employed in previous Finnish satellites Aalto 1 and the Reaktor Hello World.

Its second payload is the Sweeping Langmuir Probe (SLP), which is developed by the BIRA-IASB, and is intended to take plasma measurements in the ionosphere.

Aside from taking measurements, the PICASSO nanosatellite also aims to demonstrate its capabilities while pushing the limits of miniaturization in remote sensing applications. The data collection by both the VISION and the SLP, with respect to their costs, will enable additional research not yet performed with satellites of this scale.

PICASSO will be orbiting the Earth at approximately 530 kilometers above ground. Depending on the instruments' resistance to the extreme conditions in space, the team behind the Belgian satellite is looking at a lifespan of up to two years, after which it will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere.

State-of-the-Art Sensing Technology

VISION is a miniaturized spectral imager that will take measurements of the gas in the atmosphere. It is fitted with a camera that can detect visible light in the 430-800 nanometer freely selectable narrow wavelength range.

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"Integrating atmospheric measurement instruments into a satellite the size of a carton of milk is challenging - but the scientific opportunities are massive," explained VTT Research Team Leader Antti Nasila. In the future, instruments like VISION can also be used to measure other gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane," Nasila added.

Johanna Tamminen, a research professor from the Finnish Meteorological Institute, explained that VISION studies the ozone layer in both the stratosphere and mesosphere layers of the Earth's atmosphere by observing the spectral range of visible light. She added that although the ozone layer is gradually recovering, it is still important to continue monitoring because of its relation to climate change.

"The satellite instruments that are currently performing similar measurements are already nearing the end of their useful lives, so the launch of PICASSO VISION occurred at an important moment," Tamminen added.

Check out more news and information on the European Space Agency in Science Times.