French nanosatellite to study Beta Pictoris

French satellite to study Beta Pictoris
An artists impression of Beta Pictoris © European Southern Observatory

The new satellite PicSat will be launched into Earth orbit on 12 January 2018 to study the star Beta Pictoris using  telescope only 5mm in diameter.

The nanosatellite, which has been designed and built in just three years, will study the star, looking at its exoplanet and debris disk.

Scientists at the Paris Observatory and the Centre Nationnal de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), with support from the Université PSL, the French space agency CNES, the European Research Council and the MERAC Foundation, have designed the satellite that is just the size of three 10cm cubes stacked upon each other.

The nanosatellite which uses only five Watts of power, equivalent to that of an economical lightbulb, aims to improve knowledge of the Beta Pictoris star system.

The star lies 63.4 light years away from the Earth and is 23 million years old. It has been popular among scientists ever since the discovery of a large disk of dust, gas and debris surrounding it. The disk, left from the gas cloud from which the star formed, is a rather rare object, and astronomers from all over the world have been studying  since its disocovery

A French team led by Anne-Marie Lagrange found a giant gas planet, dubbed Beta-Pictoris b, seven times the size of Jupiter, orbiting the star at 1.5 billion kilometres.

The exoplanet could be passing in front of its star between now and the summer of this year. In an attempt to observe the transit from space, only a small, nanosatellite could be developed in a short enough period of time.

PicSat Devlopment

PicSat has therefore been designed and built using existing cubic modular structures. This satellite is the first to be built out of house for the CNRS and the Paris Observatory. It is a completely new approach to space instrumentation that has now taken off for French space research.

The project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC), as well as from CNRS, the Labex ESEP2 and the Swiss MERAC Foundation as part of its programme to support young researchers in the field of astrophysics.

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