Two Spanish instruments reach space on a Space X rocket

This Tuesday, a Falcon 9 rocket from the American company SpaceX with 113 satellites took off from the space base in Cape Canaveral, Florida (USA). Among them was Menut, an Earth observation nanosatellite already in orbit 538 km above the Earth’s surface.

Sponsored by the Generalitat de Catalunya and the Institut d’Estudis Espacials de Catalunya (IEEC), and developed by the company Open Cosmos, it is the second nanosatellite that the Government has put into orbit under the Catalonia’s NewSpace Strategyand the first whose mission is to observe our planet to help improve territory management and help control and combat the effects of the climate crisis.

The Menut nanosatellite will record 5-meter resolution images of any place on the planet from space, although it will prioritize those of Catalan territory

Menut, which was named after the children of Catalonia, is a six-unit CubeSat weighing less than 10 kg that will orbit at a speed of around 8 km per second and pass over Catalonia approximately every 5 days.

The nanosatellite has a state-of-the-art camera that will allow it to record images with a resolution of 5 meters from anywhere on the planet from space, although it prioritizes obtaining images of the Catalan territory which, after being analyzed and processed with the latest technologies of image, artificial intelligence, will make it possible to monitor the impact of climate change.

Monitor Earth’s surface

Based on the data provided by ‘Menut’, it is intended to implement use cases related to the analysis of crop and soil productivity, prevention and detection of forest fires, planning and supervision of urban and rural development, water management, and monitoring, control and protection of the environment and maritime activity. However, before starting to provide service, the nanosatellite will have a period of about 4 weeks to test the calibration and commissioning of its systems.

All data collected by Menut will be transmitted to the satellite earth station of the Montsec Observatory in Sant Esteve de la Sarga, in Pallars Jussà (Lleida). It is managed by the IEEC together with the NanoSat Lab of the Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC). The satellite will operate for a period of 2 to 4 years and then it will be forced to re-enter the atmosphere and disintegrate.

The Minister of Business and Labor of the Generalitat de Catalunya, Roger Torrent i Ramió, highlighted after the launch: “We are not going to stop here. During the first part of this 2023 we will be able to award and put into orbit the third nanosatellite of NewSpace Strategy de Catalunya, dedicated to IoT (internet of things) communications”.

The other Spanish instrument that took off on the Space X rocket is the DRAGO-2 infrared camera, developed by the IACTEC-Espacio team and integrated into the ION-SCV 007 Glorious Gratia satellite carrier of the Italian company D-Orbit.

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The DRAGO-2 (Demonstrator of Remote Analysis of Ground Observations) is a space camera that operates in shortwave infrared and is also designed for Earth observation. It is the successor model to the DRAGO-1 which was launched into orbit two years ago.

The fundamental improvement is the resolution: it goes from 300 meters per pixel to 50 meters per pixel. With the DRAGO-1 you can see an area of ​​about 190 kilometers, such as Tenerife and Gran Canaria, while with the DRAGO-2 you can see the peak of the Teide volcano and part of La Orotava in more detail.

The DRAGO-2 infrared camera is integrated into an Italian satellite operator, but the aim is to launch new instruments and the first microsatellite in the Canaries

For Rafael Rebolo, director of the Canary Islands Institute of Astrophysics (IAC, member of the project), these first two instruments, entirely developed in Tenerife, which will look at the Earth from space, are a first step.

The IACTEC Espacio team is now working on the development of VINIS, a new instrument that will include observations in multiple visible and infrared bands, with a much higher resolution of 5 meters per pixel.

The next phase will be the launch of the first microsatellite from the Canary Islands for Earth observation, called ALISIO, which “should be able to fly early next year”, anticipates Rafael Rebolo.

Future Space Telescope IAC

This satellite will include a DRAGO-2 camera and an optical communications module. “But our ambition is to have small observatories that observe the sky from space”, says the director. After ALISIO, the launch of IACSAT, the first space telescope of the IAC, entirely dedicated to astronomical observation, is planned.

At the moment, the DRAGO-2, with a weight of just over a kilo and consumption of 6 watts, comparable to a common LED lamp, will work with the DRAGO-1. Its shortwave infrared images complement those obtained at other wavelengths, such as visible light.

Infrared images from the two DRAGOs help monitor wildfires and volcanic activity

This is very useful, for example, for monitoring fires, as the infrared allows you to see through the smoke, signaling the emergency services the position of the flames in real time, which can help them choose the most effective evacuation routes.

Other applications for DRAGO cameras are monitoring volcanic activity, monitoring the moisture status of vegetation and crops, detecting oil spills at sea or controlling desertification.

Infographic DRAGO-2. / Katherine Bjelke

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