NanoAvionics, a small satellite mission integrator company with more than 110 successful satellite missions and commercial products to its name, has captured the first-ever 4K resolution full satellite selfie in space.
NanoAvionics didn’t use a fancy, high-tech camera to achieve the feat, either. The company used an off-the-shelf consumer camera, the GoPro Hero 7, mounted on a selfie stick to capture the 12MP photos and 4K resolution video. In the imagery, you can see NanoAvionics’s M42 microsatellite 550km (342 mi) above the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef, the only living organism visible from space.
The reef off the northeast coast of Australia was selected to showcase the vulnerability of Earth and how satellites can help us monitor the planet’s health and environment. ‘The reason for taking the photo and video clip with the Great Barrier Reef in the background was partly symbolic,’ said Vytenis J. Buzas, co-founder and CEO of NanoAvionics. ‘We wanted to highlight the vulnerability of our planet and the importance of Earth observation by satellites, especially for monitoring environment and climate changes. In our increasingly visual culture, it is important for investors, students, customers and the general public to see in order to believe. Millions watch rocket launches but barely see satellites moving in orbit or deployable structures in operation. This is going to change through live or recorded footage.’
The camera wasn’t in space just to take stunning photos. It was also used to test and verify satellite operations and NanoAvionics’s new payload controller. The controller is designed to ‘optimize downlink for applications that require onboard processing of huge data packages.’
|NanoAvionics M42 satellite with the customized selfie stick and GoPro camera stowed before launch|
The GoPro Hero 7 was selected because specialized space-grade engineering cameras are often lower resolution, costly, and require a lot of development time. Instead, the team opted for a 4K-capable consumer camera and then modified the camera to survive in space.
The GoPro was stripped down to its skeleton. From there, the NanoAvionics team crafted a custom housing for the electronics, built a custom selfie stick and then developed camera control electronics and software to allow the camera to communicate with the satellite system. Of course, the team also tested the camera to ensure it could survive a rocket launch and the vacuum and extreme temperatures in space.
|Here you can see the selfie stick arm extended and the GoPro in its custom-built housing|
‘Transmitting several GB of images and videos when operating the camera with pre-programmed starts and stops from the ground was as data heavy as it gets,’ said Ernestas Kalabuckas, Chief Technology Officer of NanoAvionics. ‘In addition to receiving telemetry and technical reports, being able to access live images and videos of the satellite is useful to visually confirm the deployment of antennas and other deployable structures, and for ongoing fault detection. Comparing selfie images over time can also enable the detection of visual clues about possible degradation of materials or micro-meteorite impacts.’
Real-life images and videos of satellites and satellite components operating in space also has commercial and societal implications. Buzas said:
‘Photos and videos of satellites circling our planet could draw more attention and help more people and organizations to realise the societal, economic, educational and environmental benefits that satellites provide. It could also inspire more people to take up careers in the rapidly growing space industry. We also still face the popular misconception that space is only accessible to large governments and select businesses. The truth is space is becoming much more commonplace thanks to reduced launch costs and the growing popularity, capabilities and use cases of small satellite constellations. Satellites in low Earth orbits can detect and monitor chemical spills, illegal fishing, wildfires, crop growth as well as track and ultimately help saving endangered animals.’
Image credits: NanoAvionics