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Laser “license plate” could improve identification of cubesats

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LOGAN, Utah — A know-how utilizing a tiny laser tracker may assist resolve one of many main challenges concerned with the launching of cubesats: figuring out particular person satellites after their deployment.

The idea, offered on the AIAA/Utah State College Convention on Small Satellites right here Aug. 9, includes using a small, low-power laser on the outside of a cubesat, transmitting a singular identification code that may be noticed by small telescopes on the bottom.

The idea was prompted partly by the difficulties satellite tv for pc operators have figuring out their cubesats after they’re deployed in massive teams, such an Indian PSLV launch in February 2017 that relased 104 small satellites, primarily cubesats.

“Cubesats are being launched in bigger and bigger teams, and, for many cubesat operators, they don’t have any approach of telling which object is theirs instantly after launch,” mentioned Rebecca Holmes of Los Alamos Nationwide Laboratory. She famous there are different instances the place it may be tough to establish a person cubesat, resembling a lapse in monitoring or an surprising orbital change.

What’s wanted, she mentioned, is one thing analogous to a license plate. “Identical to automobiles have license plates and planes have tail numbers and ships have beacons, satellites want license plates that anybody can learn,” she mentioned.

The answer developed at Los Alamos is named the Extraordinarily Low Useful resource Optical Identifier (ELROI). “A easy blinking mild may be seen from orbit if it’s the proper of sunshine and we blink it in the best approach after which we have a look at it with the proper of detector,” she mentioned.

A laser transmits temporary pulses of sunshine that encodes the identification code, however retains the system’s common energy on the milliwatt stage. That sign may be detected on the bottom with a 35-centimeter telescope geared up with a slender spectral filter to dam mild in any respect frequencies apart from that the laser transmits it. That allows what Holmes referred to as “excessive background rejection,” making it potential to make out the faint laser sign.

A prototype of the ELROI know-how, referred to as ELROI-PC104, can be flown as a part of the NMTSat cubesat mission developed by the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Expertise. That satellite tv for pc is scheduled for launch in December on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket as a part of a NASA Academic Launch of Nanosatellites mission.

Different prototypes are below improvement for future assessments, Holmes mentioned. The objective is to shrink the ELROI system to one thing roughly two by two centimeters, powered by its personal photo voltaic cell.

“That might simply be caught to the facet of any cubesat,” she mentioned. “Even the smallest of satellites would be capable of fly one thing like this.”

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