by Staff Writers
Toronto, Canada (SPX) Mar 09, 2009
Canada's first foray into ship tracking from space has been tremendously successful. Nanosatellite Tracking of Ships (NTS), otherwise known as Canadian Advanced Nanospace eXperiment 6 (CanX-6), a 6.5 kg, 20-cm cubical satellite, was conceived in October 2007, completed only six months later in March 2008, and launched on 28 April 2008 on board Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) C9 from India.
"This has to be a record of some kind considering how well the satellite has performed," says Dr. Robert E. Zee, Director of the Space Flight Laboratory (SFL) at the University of Toronto.
"We completed a tailored development program and arranged a launch for NTS in the time it normally takes just to do a concept study. It was essential to have NTS launch in as short a time period as possible to secure confidence in space-based ship tracking technology."
NTS is an example of responsive space capabilities, that is, the ability to develop and launch a satellite in an extremely short timeframe to meet a time critical need.
Less than 10 kilograms and classified as a "nanosatellite," NTS was ejected from PSLV-C9 using an SFL-made XPOD separation system. The launch was arranged through SFL's Nanosatellite Launch Service (NLS).
SFL developed the satellite for COM DEV Ltd. of Cambridge, Ontario, while COM DEV provided an Automatic Identification System (AIS) receiver for the satellite that was also rapidly developed to meet the incredibly short NTS schedule.
Ships of a certain class are required to carry AIS transponders that broadcast their identity, location and heading. The system was originally conceived as a collision avoidance system and was never intended for space applications.
The challenge today is to detect AIS signals from space for global ship tracking and monitoring. According to Zee, "COM DEV has developed innovative AIS technology that allows a space-based receiver to disentangle the colliding signals from many ships over very large areas. The technology has proven to work extremely well on board NTS."
NTS is operated from SFL's mission control center at the Institute for Aerospace Studies. "The NTS mission was originally targeting one month of on orbit operations - now we are approaching one year," remarked Zee. "The NTS satellite has outlasted and outperformed its requirements."
Through NTS, SFL and COM DEV have shown how significant space missions can be accomplished using miniature satellites developed at a fraction of the traditional budget and schedule.
But the story doesn't end there. NTS is a technology demonstrator mission that precedes the development of operational space-based AIS platforms to provide data on maritime vessels. The Maritime Monitoring and Messaging Satellite (M3MSat) is the next miniature satellite currently under development by COM DEV, with the assistance of SFL, for Defence R and D Canada and the Canadian Space Agency.
M3MSat is a larger satellite (a "microsatellite" or satellite under 100 kg) that will build upon the success of NTS and be the first operational AIS satellite for the Canadian government. M3MSat will have enhanced data collection and handling capabilities over NTS. Demonstrating these enhanced capabilities on M3MSat is the next logical step to providing global AIS data services.
Space Flight Laboratory
Microsat News and Nanosat News at SpaceMart.com
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