Proprietary space cameras are expensive, limited and difficult to develop. Small satellite maker NanoAvionics recently steered clear of any development hassles and opted for something off-the-shelf instead. The company used a GoPro Hero 7 mounted on a custom selfie stick to take a truly out of this world selfie.
NanoAvionics MP42 micro-satellite bus took the 12-megapixel selfie at an altitude of 342 miles (550 km) above the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, according to a Press release. The private company, with offices in the US, UK and Lithuania, says it’s the “first full 4K resolution satellite selfie in space with an immersive view of Earth”. The small satellite, along with two other satellite buses built by NanoAvionics, spear into space in April aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Typical cameras used for these types of applications lack sufficient resolution, are too expensive, take too long to develop, and don’t always provide an immersive view. The GoPro Hero 7 was considered a good fit, but some tweaking was needed. In addition to stripping the camera down to its “bare bones”, engineers “fabricated a custom housing for the electronics, fabricated a custom ‘selfie stick’ and developed camera control electronics and special software to communicate with satellite systems,” the company explained. . Engineers also “rigorously tested it to prove it can survive the harsh environment of a rocket launch as well as the vacuum and huge temperature swings in space.”
“The reason for taking the photo and video clip with the Great Barrier Reef in the background was partly symbolic,” NanoAvionics co-founder and CEO Vytenis Buzas said in the press release. “We wanted to highlight the vulnerability of our planet and the importance of satellite Earth observation, especially for monitoring the environment and climate change.”
The company said it was using the GoPro to test and verify satellite operations, as well as to test its new PC 2.0 Payload Controller running Linux. The payload controller optimizes downlinks for “applications that require on-board processing of huge data packets,” according to NanoAvionics. The company hopes the camera will provide visual inspections of payloads, confirmation of successful deployments of items such as antennas and solar panels, detect damage and other physical anomalies such as small impacts caused by micro-meteorites, and will serve as a tool for educational purposes. . Similar setups could also be used to continuously monitor satellites to assess changing conditions over time.
Satellites are increasingly used by the private sector to observe the Earth, in addition to themselves. In April, San Francisco-based Planet Labs announcement plans to deploy a global constellation of 32 Earth observation satellites. Incredibly, these satellites will collectively be able to track a single point a dozen times a day and at resolutions good enough to find a toaster. Colorado-based Maxar Technologies has a constellation of satellites with similar capabilities.
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