20-centimetre cubes dubbed BRITE, which stands for Bright Target Explorer
TORONTO—A Toronto-designed telescope deemed the world’s smallest was successfully launched into space Feb. 25, capping off years of painstaking work by engineers and graduate students.
A rocket carrying two of the toaster-sized telescopes as well as five other satellites—including Canada’s first military satellite—blasted off from India.
One of the telescopes, classified as nano-satellites for their diminutive size, was conceived and assembled at the Space Flight Laboratory at the University of Toronto, while its twin was designed in the country but built in Austria.
The 20-centimetre cubes are dubbed BRITE, which stands for Bright Target Explorer.
They’re meant to study the brightest stars in space, observing the changes in their brilliance over time.
The devices are the first nano-satellites to be used for astronomy.
Previous ones were believed to be too small and low-performing for the job.
“We think this will open up a whole new market,” Cordell Grant, the Space Flight Laboratory’s lead mechanical engineer, said.
“The space community has been a bit slow to believe that nano-satellites can do these kinds of missions.”
The University of Toronto team has worked on the technology since 2001 and officially took on the project in 2005.
Grant said the idea for the satellites originally came from Slavek Rucinski, a now-retired astronomy professor at the university.
He said it took several years to secure Canadian funding, noting money for the BRITE devices initially came from Austria and Poland.
The project has been fulfilling, if not without hurdles, he said.
“It’s just a good feeling to do something that nobody’s done before. It’s also challenging. Any problems you encounter when you’re doing the first time, it’s really up to you to solve them on your own,” he said.
The team finished putting the satellites together in 2010 and spent the last two years preparing for the launch, he said.
Last month, Grant travelled to India with a doctoral student to help with testing.
Another four BRITE satellites—two funded by Poland and two by Canada—are set to blast off next year.