Today the Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency – EXA announced that it will be adding a mission to the first Ecuadorian satelllite, the NEE-01 PEGASUS. It will help monitoring near-earth objects from orbit using its onboard video camera and will also help in the catalog and control of orbital debris (space junk).
This new mission will turn the NEE-01 in to the first online, real time orbital video sentry for the planet, as the satellite has the capability to stream its video signal directly to the Internet.
The NEE-01 PEGASUS was built by the EXA and presented to the public on April 4, 2011, the satellite has a mass of 1.2kg and it is 75cm long, it was completely designed and built in the country with national personnel and equipment and it will perform several missions in the technical and scientific fields as well as an educational role, all this missions will serve the national technological development in the aerospace field. The satellite will be launched on board a Russian Dnepr RS20 launch vehicle operated by KOSMOTRAS from the Yasny cosmodrome on September 29 this year.
Following a change in the video camera’s technology, the satellite now has a wider field of view, an HD resolution of 720p and deep sensisibility in the IR field of 1x10E-4 lux, which makes it very suitable for this kind of job: To detect medium to small sized near-earth objects, like very small asteroids which are normally very difficult to detect but have enough mass to pose a threath to populated areas, like the one which exploded over California early this week. Also its eliptical orbit, between 600 to 900km, gives the satellite a good vantage point to detect orbital motion changes in known orbital debris.
This video observations, which are much better suited for this task than the still pictures, coupled with advanced software and orbital determination techniques will give researchers around the world an unprecedent view from orbit of dangerous objects that can threaten human spaceflight and populated areas on the ground.
The EXA will open the video signal of the satellite to any organization that is actually working on this field, conducting research on it, or that has an active NEO (Near-Earth Object) monitoring program, It will also start a program to encourage individuals around the world to form a independent network of civilian space sentries that will analize the videos transmitted by the satellite, searching for unusual signatures or changes in the orbital motion of know objects
The satellite’s primary mission is to test the basic and key technologies that will allow the EXA to build bigger and more powerful spacecrafts in the future and the secondary mission is to serve as an space platform for elementary education: The satellite will send two signals that will be received and decoded by the EXA’s HERMES-A ground station in Guayaquil and then uploaded live to the Internet using Twitter and Facebook; the first signal will contain text book questions and the second will contain an image related to the question. If the students are able to answer the question correctly they will be granted access to the video camera onboard the spacecraft and will be able to see earth from space as the astronauts see it in their space missions.
More advanced students will have access to the pure radio signal so they can try decoding it by themselves. The EXA will provide them with the appropriate support software free of charge.